The job of the white blood cell is to fight infection. Normal, healthy people have white blood cell counts between 5,000 and 12,000. When you receive chemotherapy your white blood cell count often drops below 1,000 which can make you very susceptible to infections.
When you are receiving therapy, we are most concerned with the neutrophil count (one of the white blood cells). The lower the neutrophil count, the higher the risk of infection.
If the neutrophil count is < 0.5 you are referred to as neutropenic and your risk of infection is very high. If your neutrophil count is low it is advisable to stay away from people with known viruses and maintain good hand-hygiene.
Signs you may have an infection
- Back ache
- Chills or shivers/shakes
- Cough or difficulty breathing
- Redness/pus around central venous access device
If you suspect you have an infection
- Attend your local emergency department
- Do not stay at home if you have any of the above symptoms waiting for a fever – it is better to be attended to earlier rather than later.