Infection signs and how to help reduce the risk

Signs of infection

As infection can be one of the most serious side effects of chemotherapy, it is important that you know what the symptoms of infection are.

If you have any of the following signs of infection1, report them to your doctor immediately:

  • Temperature (fever) of 38ºC or higher
  • Chills and sweats
  • Change in cough or new cough
  • Sore throat or new mouth sore
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
  • Stiff neck
  • Burning or pain with urination
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation
  • Increased urination
  • Redness, soreness, or swelling in any area, including surgical wounds and ports
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • New onset of pain
  • Changes in skin colour, urination, and mental status

Steps to help reduce the risk of infection

Once you begin chemotherapy, follow these steps and precautions which can help you avoid getting an infection1:
  • Clean your hands frequently.
  • Shower or bathe daily and use an unscented lotion to prevent your skin from becoming dry and cracked.
  • Cook meat and eggs all the way through to kill any germs.
  • Carefully wash raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or faeces) by wearing vinyl or household cleaning gloves when cleaning up after your pet. Wash your hands immediately afterwards.
  • Use gloves for gardening.
  • Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush, and if your doctor or nurse recommends one, use a mouthwash to prevent mouth sores.
  • Try and keep all your household surfaces clean.
  • If you get a cut or scrape, cover it with a clean bandage until it heals.
  • To prevent cuts when shaving, consider using an electric razor instead of a blade.

Things to avoid during chemotherapy:

  • Crowds of people and people with colds or other infections
  • Cuts or tears of the skin or nails
  • Nicks or cuts when using sharp instruments - Handle sharp objects with caution and wear protective gloves when performing tasks that expose you to a risk of cuts or scrapes, such as gardening
  • Squeezing or scratching pimples
  • Taking medicines to reduce the symptoms of infection without your doctor’s consent
  • Situations in which you may bruise or break your skin
  • Immunisations or vaccinations, unless recommended by your doctor
  • Sharing food, drink cups, utensils or other personal items, such as toothbrushes.1


  1. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. What you need to know neutropenia and risk for infection. Available at: [Last accessed: January 2021]