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Infection risk and neutropenia

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Neutropenic sepsis

Neutropenic sepsis is a medical emergency and must be treated quickly.

What is neutropenic sepsis?

Neutropenic sepsis is a whole-body reaction to an infection. It’s a serious condition that can be life-threatening. It can happen when you have a low level of neutrophils and an infection at the same time. You may also hear it called febrile neutropenia.

You’re at most risk of neutropenic sepsis if:

  • you have a temperature of 37.5°C or above
  • you have a temperature below 36°C
  • you’ve had any type of anti-cancer treatment in the last four weeks (causing a low level of neutrophils).

Symptoms of an infection

It’s important to remember that not everyone will get all, or even any, of the symptoms listed here – everyone is different.

Symptoms of infection can include:

  • fever (a temperature of 37.5°C or above)
  • low temperature (less than 36°C)
  • shivering and sweating
  • feeling confused
  • sore throat and cough
  • rashes and swelling
  • frequent watery poos (diarrhoea)
  • a burning or stinging sensation when weeing, or trouble weeing at all
  • unusual stiffness of the neck
  • achy flu-like symptoms
  • fluid with an unusual smell, colour or texture coming from your vagina (discharge), or itching in or around your vagina
  • generally not feeling well

If you have any symptoms of infection, you should contact your medical team immediately, no matter how minor or vague the symptoms seem.

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Avoiding infection

Whether or not you’re neutropenic, it’s important to protect yourself against infection. The coronavirus pandemic has made this feel more normal as it’s something everyone has had to worry about.

Here are some ways to limit your risk of picking up an infection:

  • Clean your hands frequently.
  • Clean cuts, scrapes, and grazes with warm water, soap, and an antiseptic.
  • Don’t share food, drink cups, utensils or other personal items, such as toothbrushes.
  • Keep your mouth clean.
  • Shower or bathe daily and use lotion to stop your skin from becoming dry and cracked.
  • Avoid handling any animal waste, such as litter trays or manure.
  • Be careful about how you prepare, cook and store your food.
  • Avoid crowded places like public transport, festivals and shopping centres.
  • Stay away from anyone who’s ill with a cold or flu.
  • Speak to your healthcare team about whether it’s ok for you to do gardening and housework – if you do, wear protective gloves.
  • Avoid fresh cut flowers and vases with old water in.

We have more information about how you can manage your risk of infection, and specifically about the neutropenic diet.

For more information and tips about avoiding infection, you can order a free copy of our infection fact sheet.

We also have other information about blood cancer and coronavirus.

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