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Cancer Survivor Employs Simple Steps to Fight off Infection During Chemotherapy

Categories: Hand Hygiene, Healthcare-associated infections, Outpatient Care, Patients

Pamela Bryant and family

Pamela Bryant and family

Author: Pamela Bryant, MS
Health Communications Specialist, CDC

To do:

  • Biopsy
  • MRI
  • Port-a-Cath
  • Chemotherapy
  • Genetic Testing
  • Lumpectomy
  • Radiation

The above list is not exactly the type of to-do list I ever thought I’d be faced with. As you can imagine, this list of tests, screenings, procedures, and treatments was a bit overwhelming as I was diagnosed last October with a Stage II breast cancer. Not only did I learn I had triple negative breast cancer, but I had to accept that my treatment plan would definitely include chemotherapy—8 rounds to be exact—followed by surgery and radiation. My life and my family’s life was about to change during this time. So we talked and prayed, and then we prepared for this journey.

As a “CDC-er,” my work as a health communications specialist often involves taking what our team of scientists knows and putting it into easy-to-understand language for the general public. So after I learned that I had cancer and was trying to prepare myself and my family for what was to come, I read about one of chemotherapy’s most serious side effects that I had never heard of before – neutropenia. Almost instantly, my CDC background kicked in. First of all, I thought, “how do you even pronounce this word (new-tro-pee-nee-a, by the way),” and secondly, “how can I explain the seriousness of this to my family?”

Pamela Bryant, MS

Pamela Bryant, MS

Once I did a little digging, I found an excellent resource (right in my back yard!) that explained this condition to my family and me. PreventCancerInfections.org is a web site developed by CDC that provides practical steps that patients and caregivers can take to prevent infections. This website also helps explain what neutropenia is (a low white blood cell count), how and why it makes you more likely to get an infection, and what you and your family can do to help protect yourself.

Ironically, my CDC job involves communicating about basic principles of maintaining good health, such as frequent hand washing and safe food preparation. Fortunately, these practices came naturally for me, but I kicked them into high gear while I was receiving chemotherapy.

One of Chemotherapy’s Most Severe Side Effects: What You Can Do To Prevent An Infection During Treatment For Cancer

Categories: Healthcare-associated infections, Outpatient Care

Michele E. Gaguski MSN RN AOCN CHPN APN-C

Michele E. Gaguski MSN RN AOCN CHPN APN-C

Author: Michele E. Gaguski
MSN RN AOCN CHPN APN-C

As an oncology nurse, I often see anxiety and fear in the eyes of my patients as I  teach them what to expect from their first round of chemotherapy.  Most of the time, patients’ first questions are about the more visible side effects of their treatment:  “Will I lose my hair?” “Will the chemo make me nauseous?”

While all of these are very real and important, none of them may be as life threatening as getting an infection.  Having a low white blood cell count is one of the most serious side effects of chemotherapy.

Here’s how it works:  if you have cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, the chemotherapy drugs work by killing the cancer cells in your body. However, they also kill the good cells, like your infection-fighting white blood cells.  When this happens and your white blood cell count dips too low, your immune system takes a hit as well, increasing your risk of infection.  This condition, called neutropenia, is common after receiving chemotherapy.

It’s important for patients with cancer to know that getting an infection is an emergency and should be treated as one.  In fact, it’s estimated that each year 60,000 cancer patients are hospitalized for chemotherapy-related infections and one patient dies every two hours from this complication.

Helping Cancer Patients Prevent Infections this Winter

Categories: Healthcare-associated infections, Outpatient Care, Patients

Alice Guh, M.D, MPH

Alice Guh, M.D, MPH

Author:   Alice Guh, M.D., M.P.H.
Medical Officer, CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion

When you are battling cancer, the last thing you want to get is an infection.  This is one of the reasons why I am involved in Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients,  a program focused on providing information, action steps and tools for cancer patients, their families and healthcare providers to reduce the risk of developing potentially life-threatening infections during chemotherapy treatment.

With flu season peaking, I thought it was an appropriate time to answer some questions about how cancer patients can take action to protect themselves against the flu and other serious infections this winter.

Why are cancer patients at greater risk for infection from the flu?

Cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy are vulnerable to infections when their white blood cell count is low. It’s important for cancer patients to understand how to prevent infections year-round, and especially during flu season.

In the winter months, cancer patients face an additional infection risk: influenza or flu. Like other infections, flu is more likely to cause serious complications in cancer patients because of their   weakened immune systems. These complications can include pneumonia, a disruption to their chemotherapy schedules, hospitalization and death.

What Happens in the Outpatient Clinic Doesn’t Always Stay in the Outpatient Clinic: Lessons from a Regional Outbreak of Adenovirus-associated Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis (EKC)

Categories: Healthcare-associated infections, Outpatient Care, State HAI Prevention

Andrew Wiese, MPH

Andrew Wiese, MPH

Author – Andrew Wiese, MPH
Applied Epidemiology Fellow
Tennessee Department of Health
CDC, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE)

This week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) includes a description of six separate outbreaks of Adenovirus-associated epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) in four different states. These outbreaks were mainly associated with outpatient eye care.

Last August, as a new CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology fellow in the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), I experienced firsthand an outbreak that was similar to those described in the MMWR. We were contacted by a concerned patient who experienced severe conjunctivitis after receiving care at a local ophthalmology clinic and was aware of similarly affected patients.  I was asked to help lead the investigation.

Communication with the clinic identified gaps related to cohorting of suspected cases, procedures for disinfection of equipment and surfaces, and the policy for the appropriate length of time ill staff should be kept from patient contact.  Our TDH team then guided implementation of appropriate infection control practices to prevent further transmission.  While our investigation identified ninety cases of EKC at the clinic, only a single case from the clinic occurred after the health department’s intervention.

Protect Cancer Patients from Infections

Categories: Antibiotic use, Healthcare-associated infections, Outpatient Care

Alice Guh, M.D, MPH

Alice Guh, M.D, MPH

Author: Alice Guh,
CDC medical officer and co-lead of Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients initiative

As clinicians, we know that the nearly one million patients who receive outpatient cancer treatment each year are at risk for serious infections that may lead to hospitalization, disruptions in chemotherapy schedules, and in some cases, death. Even so, it appears that outpatient oncology facilities may vary greatly in their attention to infection prevention. As one example – at an oncology clinic in Nebraska, it was discovered that syringes were reused to access bags of saline that were shared among multiple patients. This unsafe practice led to the transmission of hepatitis C virus to at least 99 cancer patients, resulting in one of the largest healthcare-associated outbreaks of its kind.

To help address this problem, CDC is launching a new program called Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients, featuring tools to help both clinicians and patients prevent infections.

As a cornerstone of this new initiative, CDC worked with partners to develop a Basic Infection Control and Prevention Plan for Outpatient Oncology Settings, which can be used by outpatient oncology facilities to standardize – and improve – infection prevention practices.

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