Staying safe from infection when you’re a child or young person with cancer

Children and young people on cancer treatment are more at risk from everyday infections like colds, coughs and diarrhoea. As shielding eases in England and Northern Ireland, and things begins to return to normal, here’s a timely reminder of how to stay safe from infection.

Hand-washing

Hand-washing has always been an important part of keeping people with cancer safe. So keep washing those hands! Thanks to COVID-19, the whole of the UK is much more aware of the important role hand-washing plays in reducing the spread of infection. With a lot more clean hands around there could be a lowered chance of picking up nasty bugs from school, college or work.

Avoid people with infections

This is really important for cancer patients. Before anyone visits, check they don’t have diarrhoea, vomiting, coughs, colds, or any other contagious illnesses. And don’t visit anyone who isn’t feeling well. This includes anyone in your ‘support bubble’.

Social distancing and seeing less people is commonplace now. The World Health Organisation says social distancing and hand-washing is as important as finding a vaccine in preventing the spread of COVID-19. This could help prevent the spread of other infections as well as COVID-19.

Avoid high risk foods when you’re neutropenic

When you have low resistance to infections avoid foods containing raw or lightly-cooked eggs, paté, soft cheeses, live bio yogurts and re-heated foods. Self-service salad bars, unwrapped pick and mix sweets and sharing platters are others to avoid.

Don’t get new tattoos or piercings

Avoid these during treatment and for a few months after until your immune system is fully recovered. It’s sensible to wait until COVID-19 levels are very low, even when services re-open. Read our article on tattoos and piercings for more information.

Maintain good standards of cleaning

This has always been part of the advice to cancer patients and their carers. Now because of COVID-19 we can expect to see higher levels of cleaning in public spaces like classrooms and workplaces. Again this may reduce the chance of picking up any kind of infection.

Eat a well-balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest and sleep

These all help to prevent infections and also help combat infections when they do arise. If eating isn’t going well, talk to the hospital team or dietician about adding some supplements or special feeds to keep topped up. There’s helpful information about eating well on the Royal Marsden’s website.

Don’t travel abroad if you’re neutropenic

Or at least do it in close consultation with your clinical team. This continues to be sensible precaution in a post-shielding era.

Let your cancer team know of any contact with someone with an infection

Always contact your or your child’s cancer team if you/they come into contact with anyone with an illness such as chicken pox or measles. If you’re a parent, ask your child’s school to contact you if anyone in your child’s class is diagnosed with an infectious illness.

Feeling unwell

If you or your child has a high temperature, follow your cancer team’s guidance on when to call for advice or go into hospital to be checked out. Same goes if you’re worried about any signs or symptoms, or if you or your child generally doesn’t feel right.