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When your immune system is low, there is increased chance of developing an infection.

An infection can begin in almost any part of your body, including your mouth, skin, lungs, urinary tract, rectum and reproductive tract. Most infections come from the bacteria normally found on the skin and in the intestines and reproductive tract that doesn't normally affect us when our immune systems are functioning fully.

While it's close to impossible to avoid all infections, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of getting an infection by taking care. For instance:

  • Properly wash your hands, which you should do frequently.
  • Don't touch your face unless you've just washed your hands.
  • Practice good dental hygiene.
  • Purchase, store, clean and cook food properly.
  • Take care in crowds.
  • Avoid people with infectious diseases if possible. If you can't avoid them, take care.
  • Take care with your skin. Avoid nicks and cuts.
  • Clean your rectal area gently but thoroughly after each bowel movement.
  • Take care when applying make-up.
  • Take a warm (not hot) bath and shower or sponge bath every day.
  • Take care when cleaning up after children and pets.
  • Speak with your specialist about whether flu and other immunization shots are safe for you.
  • When your immune system is particularly low, postpone teeth cleaning and other dental work, as well as inoculations.

For the following specific situations, click on the link:

It is possible to increase infection fighting white blood cells. For information, click here

For signs of infection to watch for, click here.

Testing for infection:  Low amount of white blood cells usually indicates the presence of an infection. Your doctor can test for white blood cells by injecting a small needle (usually in an arm) and removing a small amount of blood. The blood is then sent to a lab for testing. If your immune system is low, your doctor will probably check your white blood count frequently, particularly when you are receiving treatment. If your count drops too low, your doctor may postpone treatment or give you a lower dosage of drugs.

NOTE: It is helpful to keep a thermometer handy because it is advisable to call your doctor immediately, (even at night or on weekends), if you have a temperature of 100.5 degrees Farenheit or higher. Also call your doctor if you develop chills (with or without fever) or other symptoms of infection your doctor suggested you watch for.

How to Wash Your Hands To Reduce Risk Of Infection

To wash your hands with the best chance of removing all harmful bacteria, it is advisable to:

  • Use warm water.
    • Water that is too hot can harm your skin.
    • Water that is cold doesn't product enough suds.
  • Use any type of soap, preferably one that produces a good lather. Antibacterial soap is unnecessary.
  • Soap every millimeter of your skin for 15 - 20 seconds including:
    • The underside of nails. (When possible, a nail scrub brush should be used to get under your fingernails).
    • The backs of your hands.
  • Singing Happy Birthday twice takes about 20 seconds.
  • Rinse repeatedly. It's easiest if you keep the water running. The idea is to get rid of every millimeter of suds and every germ.

If you are in public when you wash your hands, use a cover such as a hand towel to close the faucet. If you use your hand, you will reinfect yourself. Use a similar technique on the washroom door when you leave.

If you would like to see a video about the correct way to wash hands, click here offsite link.

NOTE: Hand sanitizers can take the place of hand washing when necessary. However, it is better not to use them in place of soap and water. Hand sanitizers generally don't cut through dirt to get to germs. They also don't kill all germs.

How To Reduce Daily Risks Of Infection

The following tips can help you avoid infection at a time when your body is most vulnerable:

Wash your hands.

  • Be sure to wash your hands extra well before you eat and before and after you use the bathroom. Preferably wash with warm water and soap for a minimum of 15 -- 20 seconds. (About as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice).
  • Be sure to dry your hands completely. Water can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • When you exercise (subject to your doctor's approval), keep in mind that gyms generally have germs on all the equipment from all the use. Be particularly careful about washing your hands or applying disinfectant and not touching any part of your face until after you've washed.

Do not touch your face unless you just washed your hands.

  • Ideally, never touch your face, nose or mouth unless you've just washed your hands. Since this is not doable for most people, limit the touching as much as possible. 
  • One tip to reduce touching is to think all the time as if you are allergic to poison ivy, that it can spread by touch, and you have touched some. 
  • If you keep moist cleaning towels with you, you'll have the ability to clean your hands whenever you need to.

Check the local water supply.

  • Water that may be safe for an average person, may not be for a person with a lowered immune system.
  • Check to see if it is safe.
  • If the water is not safe, filter it, boil it, or drink bottled water (including for brushing your teeth). 

When you eat out

  • Only eat in places you believe follow food safety guidelines. 
  • If a nearby person is sick and coughing in your direction, move tables.
  • The need to eat nutritiously does not go away because you are eating out instead of eating at home.


  • Wear protective gloves when gardening.

When cleaning up:

  • After people and children: Wear protective gloves when cleaning up after others, especially small children.
  • After animals and pets: Speak to your doctor about how your pets or their care could affect your condition.

Immunization shots:

  • Do not get any immunization shots without first checking with your specialist.
  • Getting a flu shot can be particularly important for a person with a weak immune system. A weakened immune system makes it more likely that you will catch the flu. Ask your doctor when is the best time for you to get the shot.

Public restrooms:

  • Don't touch flush handles or faucets with bare hands. Use paper towels to do the work for you.
  • Don't touch a door handle, or pushing the door with your bare hands. Use your arm or elbow.
  • Do not put a purse or bag on the floor.

Avoid people with active infectious diseases as much as possible.

  • Stay away from people who have active diseases that you can catch, such as a cold, the flu, measles, or chickenpox.
  • If you have to be with them: 
    • Be particularly cautious about touching your face with your hands until you get a chance to wash them. 
    • Ask them to cover their mouth when they cough.

At the office:

  • Wash your hands immediately after using someone else's keyboard or telephone.
  • Use paper towel on microwave door handles or communal coffee makers.
  • Don't touch escalator rails or elevator buttons with bare hands.

At the doctor's office:

  • Bring your own reading material. Cold and flu viruses can survive on the pages of magazines. 
  • If you do use the doctor's reading material, do not moisten your finger in your mouth when turning the pages. Keep your hands away from your face until you have a chance to wash your hands.

NOTE: Tests show that mobile phones are covered with germs, including high levels of bacteria. Check with the phone manufacturer to find out what you can use to clean the phone with a bacteria killing cleanser.

How To Avoid Risk Of Infection At The Gym

Even the cleanest gym can be a breeding ground for germs - including germs that are resistant to anti-biotics. Viruses and bacteria may survive for hours on metal and other gym surfaces. Some fungi can survive for years. 

This can be particularly threatening to people with a compromised immune system.

To protect yourself:

  • From the moment you start exercise until you wash your hands thoroughly with an anti-bacterial soap (or regular soap if an anti-bacterial one isn't available), do not touch your hands to your nose, mouth, ears or eyes.
  • Wipe down equpment with the alcohol spray or wipes that most gyms provide or with your own anti-bacterial wipes or alcohol. If you want to be extra safe, wear exercise gloves. If you can't wipe down areas you touch,  clean your own hands or other exposed skin that has come in contact with equipment immediately after use.
  • Do not share towels.
  • Put a clean towel over your workout mat or consider bringing your own mat.
  • Avoid bar soap from the gym (soap in a dispenser is fine). Bacteria actually breeds in the hot, wet surface of the soap. If the gym doesn't have soap in a dispenser, take your own bottle of anti-bacterial soap to the gym.
  • If you have a cut, keep it covered so the wound doesn't come in contact with gym equipment.
  • If you use the steam room, keep in mind that steam rooms breed bacteria. Avoid infection by keeping your hands away from your face.
  • Your gym clothes:
    • Change out of your gym clothes before leaving the gym so you don't spread organisms to other areas.
    • Wash your gym clothes and the bag you carry them in after every work out. If you used a reusable water bottle, wash it too.
  • Just before you leave the gym:
    • Shower.  
      • Wash every part of your body. (Wear shower shoes in the locker room and shower.)
      • Dry yourself thoroughly, including your armpits, feet groin and between your toes. Some professionals suggest blow-drying your feet on low heat to make sure they are dry.
    • If you can't shower, at least wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. A rule of thumb for killing germs is to wash as long as it takes you to hum the song: "Happy Birthday."
    • Note that antimicrobial liquid soaps kill more germs than antibacterial soaps.

While we're discussing dos and don'ts at the gym: Do avoid dehydration by drinking water before, during and after workouts, especially if you are taking a heavy daily dose of prescription drugs.

To Learn More

More Information

Drinking Water Safety

How To Avoid Infection On An Airplane

According to the New York Times:

Though many people worry about air quality in planes, it is the shared surfaces touched by passengers throughout the day that often transmit germs.... In 2007, Charles P. Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, swabbed airplane bathrooms and tray tables on eight flights to see what bugs might be lurking onboard. Four out of six tray tables tested positive for the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and norovirus, the highly contagious group of viruses that can cause a miserable one- or two-day bout of vomiting, diarrhea and cramping, was found on one tray. Most of the bathrooms he swabbed had E. coli bacteria. Thirty percent of sinks, flush handles and faucet handles had E. coli, as did 20 percent of toilet seats, according to his research.

The best way to ward off infection in an airplane is to wash your hands before touching your face and before you eat or drink anything. Liberal use of hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes can also help ward off disease.

There are a variety of products on the market that may help although nothing seems to be as effective as the above advice about washing and not touching your face unless your hands are clean. For instance:

  • An air purifier to hang around your neck. One is made by Wein Products: offsite link
  • At the web site of travel supply company, Magellan, you can find an assortment of products. See offsite link, click on "In Flight Health"

How To Avoid Infection In A Crowd

  • Try to avoid crowded enclosed areas.
  • It is particularly important not touch your face with your hands until you've washed them.
  • If you're particularly vulnerable, wear a face mask. It may feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but you'll likely get used to it. If you don't want to talk about your health condition, decide ahead of time what to tell people who ask about it.

How To Reduce Risk Of Infection When Maintaining Your Nails

Take care with skin nicks and cuts and when maintaining your nails.

  • Be careful not to cut or nick yourself when using scissors, needles, or knives.
  • Clean even these small cuts and scrapes right away with warm water, soap, and an antiseptic.
  • An electric shaver instead of a razor prevents breaks or cuts in your skin.
  • Don't cut or tear the cuticles of your nails.
  • Clip your nails with the appropriate equipment you can purchase in any drug store.
  • Don't squeeze or scratch pimples.


How To Reduce Risk Of Infection In The Bathroom

In the bathroom

  • Take a warm (not hot) bath, shower, or sponge bath every day. Pat your skin dry using a light touch. Do not rub or tug your skin.
  • Clean your rectal area gently but thoroughly after each bowel movement.
    • Ask your doctor or nurse for advice if the area becomes irritated or if you have hemorrhoids. (Baby wipes are one suggestion)
    • Check with your doctor before using enemas or suppositories.
  • Close toilet lids before flushing. 
  • Men: 
    • Consider switching to an electric razor to avoid cuts you can get from using a blade. 
      • Warm your skin first with water or a hot towel.
      • Rinse afterward with warm water.
    • If you must use a manual razor:
      • Keep it sharp
      • Always rinse after use
      • Shake off excess water without wiping
  • If possible, use a separate toilet. Toilets harbor bacteria. If you cannot use a separate toilet, it is advisable to at least wipe down the toilet before you use it.

How To Reduce Risk Of Infection When Applying Make-Up

When applying make-up

  • When applying make-up, use clean applicators, sponges and brushes. Do not share make-up or applicators with others.
  • Old Make-up Products: Exercise caution with old cosmetic products including foundations, powders, and lipsticks. Older products that are inadequately preserved may contain microorganisms that can cause infection. If in doubt - throw it out.

How To Reduce Risk Of Infection When You Have Dry Skin

To reduce risk of infection when you have dry skin, use lotion or oil to soften and heal your skin if it becomes dry and cracked.

Increasing White Blood Cells -- Infection Fighters

Eat foods that are rich in anti-oxidants.

You can also take a multivitamin that contains vitamins A, C and E.  If you do take a multivitamin, keep in mind that vitamins are not regulated by the federal government. Only purchase a brand from a reliable maker.

There are medications that can increase your white blood count, making your immune system function more effectively. If your immune system is low, ask your doctor whether there are medications that would work for you to help improve your immune system.

Signs of Infection To Watch For

Following are indications that you may have an infection:

  • Fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Loose bowels
  • A burning feeling, pain or difficulty with urination, or reddish or bloody urine. (Keep in mind that some medications including cancer drugs can cause urine to change color to orange, red or bright yellow, and the urine may take on a strong or medicine-like odor.)
  • Men: a change in the color or odor of semen.
  • Women: unusual vaginal discharge or itching
  • A severe cough or sore throat
  • Redness, sweeling, or tenderness around a wound

Be alert to the signs of infection. You should check your body on a regular basis, paying special attention to your nose, mouth, and genital and rectal areas.

Immediately call your doctor and report any signs of infection. Let him or her decide how long a symptom can continue before you should be seen.