Log in »

Neutropenia (Low White Blood Cell Count)

This information explains how to avoid getting an infection while you have neutropenia (low white blood cell count), and how to recognize the signs of infection.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. They help your body fight infection. When your neutrophil count is low, you're at risk for infection. To prevent infection, you must follow the instructions below until your neutrophil count returns to normal. 

Watch for any signs of infection and report them to your doctor or nurse. Be sure to take your temperature orally (by mouth), as directed by your doctor or nurse. Call your doctor or nurse if it is 100.4° F (38° C) or higher.

General Hygiene

  • Shower or bathe daily. Wash carefully under your arms, in your anal and genital areas, and in skin folds.
  • Wash your hands using soap that can kill germs. Look for the words “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.” Dial® is one example, but there are many others. Wet your hands with warm water and then rub your hands with soap for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well under warm running water. Dry your hands with a paper towel.
  • Perform mouth care after each meal. Use an ultra-soft toothbrush and brush and rinse as directed by your doctor or nurse.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (such as Purell®) after shaking hands and after contact with young children.

Ways to Prevent Infection

  • Avoid having visitors to your home who have a cold or recently had an infection.
  • Wear a mask if you have to go out in public places, use public transportation, or are in crowded areas. This will help protect you from catching a cold or other respiratory infection.
  • Do not have any dental work or procedure done that is not urgent. Speak with your doctor or nurse first.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse if you can:
    • Use tampons
    • Use suppositories
    • Have enemas
  • Do not eat raw meats, raw fish, or raw eggs. Ask your nurse or dietitian for the resource Low Microbial Diet, if you have not already received it.
  • Do not share eating or drinking utensils.
  • Do not get a manicure, pedicure, wax, or tattoo without the approval of your doctor or nurse.
  • Do not shave your scalp. Try to avoid shaving any other part of your body. If you must shave, use an electric razor.
  • Do not touch any animal waste products (i.e., litter boxes, fish tanks, pet cages).
  • Do not garden or handle soil.

Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have Any of the Following Signs of Infection:

  • A temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher
  • Shaking chills
  • Nausea and vomiting that is not getting any better
  • Flushed face
  • Sweats
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Headache
  • New onset of pain
  • Irritability
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Feeling tired, especially if you also have flu-like symptoms