What precautions should I take if I have neutropenia?
The general state of immunocompromise necessitates careful handling of the patient and the surrounding environment. Patients are not treated similarly, and the degree of care depends on the severity of the overall condition. Severely neutropenic individuals are usually isolated at the hospital and their environment is kept as sterile as possible while the majority of mildly neutropenic individuals are not.
General considerations regarding neutropenic individuals include:
- Personal hygiene: Neutropenic individuals should pay extra care towards their personal hygiene since they can’t withstand even the normal bacterial load we are normally exposed to. Measures like frequent hand washing with antibacterial soap and avoiding touching the mouth and nose while outside ensure that the least amount of bacteria reach the respiratory system. Other measures include avoiding using towels, combs, and utensils with other individuals also reduce the risk of transmitting infections of the skin and gastroenteritis.
- Frequent tooth brushing: Brushing your teeth 2-3 times daily ensures healthy gums and reducing teeth and gum infections which can flare in neutropenic individuals. Try to use soft toothbrushes if your gum is sensitive to avoid damaging your mucosa. Do not ignore gum or teeth infection and seek medical care if they occur. Frequently use mouth wash containing hydrogen peroxide to keep the bacteria in your mouth to a minimum.
- Any skin abrasion or wound should be disinfected and managed properly either by yourself if minor or by healthcare personnel if it occurred with exposure to mud or rusty objects.
- Practice safe sex: Always use protection during sex and avoid multiple sexual partners during the period of neutropenia. Sexually transmitted diseases can be serious in neutropenia.
- When you are outside, try to avoid crowded places and practice social distancing. Crowded places are ideal for viral transmission especially by air.
- Avoid sick people especially people with respiratory illnesses. A mild illness for a normal people can be fatal in a sufficiently neutropenic individual.
Regarding diet, several measures can be taken to reduce any risk of gastrointestinal infections:
- Avoid eating outdoors as much as possible especially from less hygienic street food.
- Discard any outdated food especially canned food and milk products. Never use outdated meat products since they can contain lethal bacteria especially for the immunocompromised.
- Wash vegetables and fruits before consumption if raw to reduce their bacterial and parasitic load. If cooked, make sure they are cooked properly.
- Avoid raw meat products and cook your meat thoroughly.
- Try to avoid acidic and very spicy foods during your illness, they can irritate your mucosa especially if you have sensitive gums and facilitate gum and teeth infections. Acidic food can also facilitate tooth caries.
- Always consume pasteurized milk products.