Prevent Chemo-Related Infections at Home

By Diana Bierman

Chemotherapy works to kill cancerous cells and halt their chance of spreading. However, chemo can also damage healthy white blood cells, which help fight infection. When your white blood cell level is too low, your immune system becomes suppressed, increasing your risk of developing an infection.

According to a healthcare survey by the research firm Harris Interactive Inc., one in four people who underwent chemotherapy got an infection during treatment, and, of these, 61% had more than one.

And while you may be spending most days in your house during chemo, limiting your exposure to foreign germs, 65% of cold-causing bacteria are transmitted through household items, according to research.

Follow these steps to safeguard your home:


  • Scrub the tub. Sure, the bathtub is used for cleansing, but studies show it also harbors more bacteria than the average trash can. Be sure to wash away germs with a disinfectant at least twice a week.
  • Double the flush. After using the toilet, flush twice to reassure all germs are gone. And shut the lid before flushing to avoid a splash.
  • Take toothbrush precautions. Although it battles germs on its own turf, your toothbrush is quite vulnerable when not in use. Store your toothbrush in a holder without a lid or cover as far away from the toilet as possible. Replace it every three months.
  • Spray down the sink. A study showed kitchen faucet handles carried over 13,000 bacteria per square inch! Use a disinfecting spray on the sink each night.
  • Sanitize the shower curtain. Clean the shower curtain, a breeding ground for mold, in the washing machine using one cup of bleach and one cup of detergent. Then hang-dry. Tip: Wash the curtain with towels so the plastic doesn’t crinkle.
  • Avoid a towel swap. Towels are used primarily when you’re the cleanest, but they’re still capable of housing bacteria. To prevent germ transmission, don’t share towels with other family members.
  • Nix disposable razors. An electric razor is less likely to cut your skin, a risk factor for infection.


  • Nuke your sponge. Putting the sponge, the most germ-laden of kitchen items, in the microwave for one minute can destroy infection-causing bacteria.
  • Beware of microwave germs. Before setting the timer, wipe down the touch pad, an infamous germ-breeding area.
  • Wipe down salt and pepper shakers. When testing for cold germs, University of Virginia researchers found bacteria on 100% of salt and pepper shakers. Be sure to wipe off these germ catchers before use.
  • Shield your hands when cutting. Disposable gloves can provide an extra layer of protection against a knife-cutting mishap. If you still cut yourself, wash the wound with warm water and an antiseptic right away and cover it with a bandage.
  • Clean cutting boards thoroughly. Cutting boards are one of the most germ-ridden kitchen tools. Besides using the dishwasher, spray your cutting board with a 5% solution of vinegar, which kills 99% of bacteria.
  • Inspect your dishwasher. A valuable cleaning asset, the dishwasher can still reign in enough mold and mildew to trigger infection-causing bacteria. When mold and mildew are noticeable, carefully clean the food traps, dish racks and door.
  • Disinfect kitchen surfaces. The FDA suggests wiping down counters and tables with a mixture of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach and one quart of water.
  • Cook with cleanliness. Wash your hands before and after eating, doing dishes and handling raw food. Use warm water and soap, scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds.


  • Do laundry often. Wash clothes and sheets frequently, and right away if any bodily fluids got on them. Use the hot cycle of the washing machine, which fends off bacteria better. Avoid letting wet laundry linger in the washing machine; place it in the dryer right away.
  • Shelter your feet. Wear slippers or other footwear on all surfaces in your house, which may be dirty
  • Reject the remote. We’ve all reached for a snack before changing the channel, making the remote a regular germ factory. Wipe down this shared device often or store it in plastic wrap that can be changed daily.
  • Fight light-switch germs. Bacteria accumulate fast on this regularly touched device. Turn off the light when you leave a room but not before sanitizing it with a wipe.
  • Avoid eating in bed. If you must, use a tray and clean up immediately afterwards. Any traces of food left behind just become an invitation that germs will RSVP to.
  • Disinfect your desk. Because it’s an underrated place to clean, desk germs tend to multiply. Frequently use disinfectant wipes to clean your desktop. Remember the computer and keyboard, too.
  • Protect yourself from pets. Man’s best, yet dirty, friend is where many germs thrive. Keep your door closed to make sure your pet can’t get on or near your bed. When you do hold or pet it, wash your hands immediately after.
  • De-germ your trashcan. Yes, even the garbage needs cleaning! And don’t just empty the can; scrub it down to ensure this hotspot for germs is safe.

Throughout your home

  • Don’t forget about door knobs. Wipe them down with a disinfectant cloth at least twice a week.
  • Take care of telephones. This includes your cell and home phones—sanitizer cloths are good for disinfecting these devices once a week.
Published June 2012

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