Infection and Graft-versus-Host Disease

It's important to avoid potential sources of infection while on medication for graft-versus-host disease.

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Many drugs used to treat graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) weaken your immune system. This increases the risk of developing an infection.

To protect against a serious bacterial infection, your doctor may put you on antibiotics or give you antibiotics to keep on hand in case you develop a fever. You may also be asked to take medications to prevent viral and fungal infections.

Wash Your Hands

Your transplant team will give you guidelines to help prevent infection while your immune system is weak. The most important guideline is to frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before:

  • eating or preparing food
  • taking medications

Be sure you wash your hands after:

  • touching catheters or wounds
  • changing diapers (if you are permitted to do so)
  • touching plants or dirt (If you are permitted to do so)
  • going to the restroom
  • touching animals
  • touching bodily fluids or items that might have come in contact with bodily fluids such as clothing, bedding or toilets
  • going outdoors or to a public place
  • removing gloves
  • collecting or depositing garbage (if you are permitted to do so)

Avoid Sources of Infection

Until you are off immunosuppressive drugs, you'll want to avoid exposure to sources of infection. You transplant team may recommend that you avoid:

  • crowds
  • people who have, or have been exposed to, infections
  • gardening or digging in dirt
  • smoking or being around people who smoke cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or marijuana
  • walking, wading, swimming or playing in ponds or lakes
  • construction sites and remodeling projects

Cleaning kitchen counters and bathrooms daily with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water can help eliminate sources of infection.

If you use well water, it will need to be treated before using it.

Ask your Transplant Team about Pets

Rules vary among transplant centers about whether or not you can have pets at home while your immune system is suppressed. Your transplant team may ask you to avoid:

  • cleaning litter boxes or cages, disposing of animal waste, or other activities that put you in touch with animal feces
  • adopting ill or juvenile pets
  • bird droppings
  • cleaning fish tanks
  • an animal that is sick
  • reptiles such as lizards, snakes, turtles and iguanas, and items they touch
  • chicks and ducklings
  • exotic pets such as monkeys and chinchillas

Your doctor may also recommend

  • keeping cat litter away from areas where food is served
  • keeping cats indoors
  • not adopting stray cats
  • covering backyard sandboxes to prevent cats from using it as a litter box

Take Action!

  • Avoid potential sources of infection until you are no longer on drugs that suppress your immune system.
  • At the first sign of infection, contact your doctor so that you can get prompt treatment and avoid serious complications. Infections are often easier to treat if detected early.
  • Be sure your vaccinations are up to date, and that people you live with and with whom you have frequent contact are vaccinated too.

Watch this video about infections after transplant. Click here to read the transcript of this video and download the slides. 

(To view this page in Spanish click here.)

Next Page: Drugs and Other Therapies to Treat GVHD and their Side Effects

Updated June 2024