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Program to Prevent Infections in Cancer Patients Hits Home

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Lisa Splitlog
Lisa Splitlog

Guest Author – Lisa Splitlog  
Director, CDC Value Communications
CDC Foundation

As a CDC Foundation staff member, I’m always proud to share with my family and friends how we help advance the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) lifesaving work through public-private partnerships that help protect our nation’s health security and contribute to a healthy economy. It’s exciting and fulfilling to work for an organization that makes a difference in the lives of so many.

Over the last few months, though, one of our partnerships with Amgen focused on preventing infections in cancer patients has really hit home for me. I was recently diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and am currently undergoing eight rounds of chemotherapy, which will be followed by surgery and radiation. It has been an overwhelming diagnosis that has impacted virtually every area of my life—from the wig I wear to cover my bald head to the fatigue and loss of appetite that I typically experience after each round of chemo. Someone compared chemo to “being hit by a bus,” and that’s exactly what it feels like.

After my diagnosis and development of a treatment plan, I recalled the CDC Foundation’s collaboration with Amgen, which is focused on preventing infections in cancer patients during chemotherapy. I visited the enhanced website,, eager to learn more. As I navigated through it, I learned that I was at high risk for neutropenia—or a dangerously low white blood cell count—during chemo. I also learned that a low white blood cell count could increase my risks for getting a deadly infection. There are so many things my oncologists have discussed with me, but we haven’t yet had an in-depth discussion about white blood cell counts and my health. Frankly, I had never heard of neutropenia until I attended a presentation about this partnership at a staff meeting. It’s a word I won’t soon forget.

Thanks to the campaign, I can now remember the simple phrase “3 Steps Forward. Prepare. Prevent. Protect.” I know better what to look for and what to do about it—from watching out for fever to cleaning my hands and knowing the signs and symptoms of an infection. It’s simple yet vital information that could save my life, and if routinely followed in health care settings could save the lives of so many others. 

My colleagues at the CDC Foundation are a positive, optimistic force at this difficult time. My office is filled with flowers and cards, and people often stop by for a quick check-in or word of encouragement. Their actions are truly a reflection of the character and compassion of the CDC Foundation.

And on a very personal level, it’s reassuring to know that the interactive online education program made possible by this collaboration can help cancer patients like me take action to prevent and control infections during chemotherapy. I like being able to take positive steps to impact my health. As one colleague, who is also a breast cancer survivor, reminded me, “You have cancer. Cancer does not have you.”

About the Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients Program

The Preventing Infections in Cancer Patientsprogram was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation to help reduce infections in cancer patients. The program uses practical guidance and resources for patients, caregivers and healthcare providers about steps they can take to prevent infections. In conjunction with International Infection Prevention Week, the CDC Foundation is launching an enhanced website for, an evidence-based, interactive resource targeted to assessing a cancer patient’s risk for developing a low white blood cell count and subsequent infections from chemotherapy.  Learn more

This post originally appeared on the CDC Foundation’s blog.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

6 comments on “Program to Prevent Infections in Cancer Patients Hits Home”

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    For more information on flowers in a healthcare setting, please see the excerpt below from CDC Guidelines for Preventing Opportunistic Infections Among Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Recipients
    IV. Flowers and Plants in Patient-Care Areas

    A. Flowers and potted plants need not be restricted from areas for immunocompetent patients (308–311). Category II

    B. Designate care and maintenance of flowers and potted plants to staff not directly involved with patient care (309). Category II

    C. If plant or flower care by patient-care staff is unavoidable, instruct the staff to wear gloves when handling plants and flowers and perform hand hygiene after glove removal (309). Category II

    D. Do not allow fresh or dried flowers, or potted plants, in patient-care areas for immunosuppressed patients (37,51,308,312). Category II

    CRE germs have become resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics. Types of carbapenemases that enable the CRE germ to resist antibiotics include KPC and NDM. NDM are unusual and uncommon in the United States but are more common in other parts of the world. Many countries may not be actively looking for CRE; therefore, it is unclear which countries have experienced unusual carbapenemases (e.g., NDM) and it is difficult to know their overall incidence at any given time. The vast majority of CRE producing unusual carbapenemases reported to CDC were isolated from patients with a history of an overnight stay in a healthcare facility outside the United States. The spread of these organisms between people usually occur from prolonged contact in healthcare settings.

    Healthy people usually don’t get CRE infections. CRE primarily affect patients in acute and long-term healthcare settings, who are being treated for another condition. CRE are more likely to affect those patients who have compromised immune systems or have invasive devices like tubes going into their body. Use of certain types of antibiotics might also make it more likely for patients to get CRE.

    Your story really hit home to me. My sister was just diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I was luckier – I had an abnormal mammogram and chose an open biopsy which saved my life. The pathology report showed atypical ductal hyperplasia & the open biopsy cured it. So “There but for the grace of God go I.” I will add you to my prayer list.
    And slowly, over the last 14 years, my ability to deal with infections has gotten progressively worse. I have had MRSA pneumonia 6 times, a VRE UTI, a pseudomonas sinus infection, etc. So I know how scary it can be to live with the fear of a fatal infection at any time. I wash my hands (& only my hands) as if I’m scrubbing for surgery. I was a nurse for 30 years and loved it but had to leave my job in 2005 because my health was so poor. I was using leave without pay at the end to cover my hospitalizations! I have been very fortunate to have had mostly terrific health care (except for my second TKR). My biggest fear is the New Delhi Virus (NDM-1), a virus which can transmit it’s genetic material to bacteria thus making them resistant to almost all antibiotics. Sadly, there is no new antibiotic in the works (as far as I know) which can treat the affected bacteria.
    Those of us whose immune systems do not work that well which includes many people on chemotherapy can be at increased risk. Even though the overall risk of infection with an NDM-1 affected bacteria is generally low, I believe that depends on where you live. Since I live in the Washington DC Metro area, in Arlington to be specific, a part of the country with a high rate of international travel, I believe that the risk of coming into contact with someone who has been to India or who sat next to someone returning home from a trip there recently is higher in this area & other areas of the country with a high incidence of international travel than it is in the country as a whole.
    These altered bacteria can be spread in several ways so watch out for other people coughing or sneezing at you (I intend to wear a mask during flu season as well as follow the CDC’s advice to wash my hands even more frequently than I already do)! Also, standing at least 3 – 4 feet from others reduces the danger because the droplets which carry bacteria or viruses when a person coughs or sneezes usually do not travel farther than that. Remind others to cough or sneeze into their elbow to reduce the risk of passing on pathogens to other people. I sincerely hope that you do very well & live a long and happy life. Mary Lou

    Thank you for the useful information for people having chemotherapy and therefore having low lycosites level. I have trouble with my immune system named scatricial phemphigoid and having immurane 50mg daily now for about 3 years and though I had the vaccines both for the flu and pneumonia, I had pneumonia like flu and now I am having flu and cough again in 45 days because of my two grandchildren having flu from school.

    Hello Lisa and all affected by cancer,
    Lisa, I pray for you and all that battle with cancer. My wife passed after fighting esophageal cancer, for a year. I just wanted to add a tip about washing dishes properly. Of course using a dishwasher is best because the water temperature will help sanitize dishes. But if the dishwasher is not clean and has food particles left on dishes or on the bottom of dishwasher this could cause someone to get sick. So pre-washing dishes will help keep dishes and dishwasher clean. But for those without a dishwasher and washing dishes as always may be very harmful for any and even more for someone fighting cancer or with a weak immune system. The kitchen sink, stopper, sponge and dishcloth may be dirtier than the toilet or bathtub. One should clean the sink and stopper, use a clean dishcloth and use hot running water to rinse dishes. Never fill one side with water to rinse dishes. Buy some gloves for everyone that may wash dishes and tell them the importance of why and how to wash dishes. Family and friends do have the best intentions but they may not practice the safest ways to help. I’m sure you or someone could write this better than I did off the cuff. Best wishes.

    Wishing the best for to the patient. It is interesting to read about receiving information about neutropenia and low WBC counts and prevention and yet have the author state “my office is full of flowers.” Wow, what happened? Fresh cut flowers increase risk of infection to neutropenic patients. How did that get missed?

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