Preventing Infection

You will need to guard against infection for many months after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

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After transplant, you will be at risk for infection. Until your immune system recovers, your body will not have all the tools it needs to fight infection on its own.

The first two to four weeks post-transplant are critical, but protecting against infection is an ongoing concern up to a year or two after your transplant, and longer if you develop graft-versus-host disease.

Thorough Hand Washing after Transplant

Your medical team will give you guidelines to help prevent infections until your immune system recovers. The most important of these is frequent, thorough hand washing with soap and water before:

  • eating or preparing food
  • taking medications
  • after touching catheters and wounds

Be sure to wash your hands after:

  • 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 Exposure to Infectious Agents after Transplant

During the first six months after transplant, and longer for patients on immunosuppressant drugs, you'll want to avoid exposure to sources of infection. Your transplant center may recommend that you avoid:

  • crowds
  • people who have, or have been exposed to, infection
  • 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 10 parts water can help eliminate infectious agents. 

If you live in a rural area, you may need to treat your well water before drinking it.

Can You Have Pets in the Home after Transplant?

Rules vary among transplant centers as to whether or not you can have pets in the home while you are recovering.

Your transplant center may ask you to avoid:

  • adopting ill or juvenile pets
  • 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 or chinchillas
  • cleaning litter boxes or cages, disposing of animal waste or other activities that put you in touch with animal feces
  • bird droppings
  • cleaning fish tanks

Your transplant center may also recommend

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

Better Safe Than Sorry

At the first sign of any fever or infection, immediately call your doctor.

Even infections that you would normally ignore can pose a serious threat to your while your immune system is weak. Infections are often easier to treat if detected early.

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Next Page: Nutrition after Transplant

Updated August, 2023