Playing it Safe: Avoiding Infections After Stem Cell Transplants

After stem cell transplants for blood cancers, patients — with help from their caregivers — must be careful to avoid infections.

Nikki Mann knows first-hand that it takes patience, diligence and teamwork to help a loved one recover from a stem-cell transplant following a blood cancer diagnosis.

Her husband, Bill Mann, successfully underwent a stem-cell transplant in 2004, four years after he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the age of 45.

Although the transplant was uncharted territory for the Manns, Nikki’s role as caregiver had already been cemented through their initial years of his cancer saga. This time, they both had to be mindful of the heightened risk for infection in the ensuing days and weeks, because a stem-cell recipient’s immune system is weakened for a period of time after a transplant.

From an infection standpoint, the main risks are viral and fungal infections, but some bacterial infection risk is present too, particularly for patients whose treatment regimen relies on intravenous catheters that stay implanted for months at a time, says medical oncologist Ravi Vij, a specialist in bone marrow/stem cell transplants at the Siteman Cancer Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.

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