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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Neutropenia: Preventing Infections
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Neutropenia (say "noo-truh-PEE-nee-uh") means that your blood has too few white blood cells called neutrophils. White blood cells are an important part of your body's immune system. Neutrophils help protect your body from infection by killing bacteria.
You can get infections easily when your white blood cell count is low. That's because your body can't fight off germs as well as it should. Even a mild infection can quickly become serious. So it's important to take extra measures to avoid infections and to be alert for signs of infection. Your doctor can tell you how long to keep up these precautions.
Neutropenia is often caused by cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. These treatments destroy cancer cells, but they can also decrease your body's ability to make white blood cells.
Other causes include:
Take care of your skin
Protect yourself from infection
Be careful with foods
Your doctor can tell you the best ways to handle and prepare foods to help avoid infections. You may also need to avoid certain foods. For example, your doctor may tell you to:
Fever is a common sign of infection. So your doctor may ask you to check your temperature every day and keep a written record of your readings.
Call your doctor right away if you think you have an infection. Any infection can become very serious for people with neutropenia, so it is very important to seek treatment right away.
Common signs of infection include:
Other possible signs include a sore throat or mouth sores, vaginal drainage or itching, diarrhea, pain when you urinate, or a need to urinate often.
If your white blood cell count is very low, your doctor may give you medicine to help protect you, such as:
If you get an infection or a fever, you may need to be treated in the hospital. To fight the infection, your doctor may give you antibiotics through a vein (intravenous, or IV). This gets the medicine into your bloodstream quickly. Some people may be allowed to take antibiotics by mouth.
Current as of: February 11, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineElizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: February 11, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
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