Why is there such a risk for infection during transplants?

One of the jobs of your immune system is to fight infection. Immediately before your transplant, you will need to take immunosuppressant medications, which suppress your immune system to prepare your body to receive the transplant. These medications decrease your body's ability to fight infection. When the body's defenses are down, infection can spread quickly.

This handout describes several ways you and your family, friends and healthcare providers can help prevent infection after the transplant.

What can I do to prevent infection?

Practice good hygiene

  1. Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially after using the bathroom. Lather well, rubbing your hands back and forth together, to clean all surfaces including the nail beds and the webbing between your fingers.
  2. Bathe every day. Avoid using hair spray, oils or creams. Keep your hair clean and neat. If you have oily hair, try to keep it pulled back from your face.
  3. Wash your face in the morning and at bedtime, using a mild soap and washcloth. To help prevent acne, keep your skin as clean and oil-free as possible.

Take care of your mouth and teeth

  1. Examine your mouth and gums daily.
  2. After each meal, brush your teeth with a small, soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Use dental floss daily.
  4. If a mouth sore develops, eat foods that are warm or at room temperature, and avoid consuming acidic foods and beverages (such as tomatoes and oranges).

Protect your skin from scratches, sores and other irritations that might lead to infection

If you have a cut (even if it's small), clean the area well with soap and water or hydrogen peroxide. Dry your skin, and cover the cut with a sterile bandage.

What can my friends and family do to help prevent infection?

  • Do not send or bring live plants. Fruit baskets, balloons, and fresh or silk flowers make nice gifts.
  • Follow the transplant unit's guidelines about hand washing.
  • Do not visit if you have cold or flu symptoms such as a fever, cough, or runny nose. Please return when you are feeling well.

Warning Signs of Infection

  • Fever over 100°F (38°C)
  • Sweats or chills
  • Skin rash
  • Pain, tenderness, redness, or swelling
  • Wound or cut that won't heal
  • Red, warm or draining sore
  • Sore throat, scratchy throat, or pain when swallowing
  • Sinus drainage, nasal congestion, headaches, or tenderness along upper cheekbones
  • Persistent dry or moist cough that lasts more than two days
  • White patches in your mouth or on your tongue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms (chills, aches, headache, fatigue), or generally feeling "lousy"
  • Trouble urinating: pain or burning, constant urge, or frequent urination
  • Bloody, cloudy, or foul-smelling urine

If you have any of these symptoms, notify your healthcare provider right away

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/02/2018.

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