Caregiver Blog: How to Protect Cancer Patients from Colds and Flu

Article Categories: Diseases and Conditions & Caregiver Skills

Cancer is a scary word. Often, “the Big C” is incurable, and the journey toward prolonging and improving the quality of life of a cancer patient is a huge challenge for caregivers.

Cancer and the common cold or flu are a deadly combination. This duo spells big trouble. Let's discuss why.

The common cold is caused by a virus. Symptoms include sneezing, runny and stuffy nose, and cough. The flu is worse than colds in the sense that the patient will also have a fever, muscle aches, and an extreme feeling of being unwell—but it’s nothing that a healthy immune system can’t handle on its own. When the body is weaker than usual, a person with the flu may be hospitalized but will soon recover.

For healthy people, colds and flu are diseases that can be overcome with just adequate rest, hydration, and good nutrition. An extra source of Vitamin C can also do wonders and shorten sick days.

For cancer patients, it is a different story altogether. When the body is battling cancer, the immune system is very vulnerable and compromised. It cannot fight infections as easily. A simple cold might mean severe complications that could lead to death.

In the US, the cold and flu season typically starts in October and peaks between December and February. By May, the number of cases usually drops. This means that the cancer patient and their caregiver must be on guard to make sure they stay away from those infections.

What should caregivers do to help patients fight off colds and flu?

1. Be aware of the early signs of infection.

Do not ignore a scratchy throat or a few sneezes. It is important to provide the right care to the cancer patient before the infection becomes full blown. The earlier symptoms are recognized, the better the outcome from treatment.

2. When early symptoms appear, consult the physician immediately.

The caregiver must report these symptoms to the nurse or supervisor so the patient can be given appropriate care as early as possible.

3. The physician usually gives their patient the flu vaccine. Do not miss this appointment.

The flu vaccination makes it less likely that the patient will catch an infection. If they do, they are likely to recover more quickly and less likely to get complications.

4. Practice good hygiene and frequent handwashing.

Cold and flu viruses are generally spread by droplets, but sometimes these germs survive after the droplets land on other body parts or objects.

When these live microorganisms get into the patient's nose, eyes, or mouth because of poor handwashing and sanitation practices, the cancer patient quickly becomes infected.

Practicing proper handwashing is, therefore, one of the basic defenses against colds and flu. The caregiver must also wear a mask when they have a cold, or better yet, rest from providing care when they are sick.

5. Avoid people with infections.

The reason is simple. They are the source of the microorganisms. So, avoid them as much as possible. If you are going to a place where there will be a lot of people, wear a quality surgical mask. This also means establishing rules for visitors.

6. Pump up their immune system with healthy foods, adequate fluids, and early morning sunshine.

Cancer patients have weakened immune systems, so the most natural way to replenish antibodies, or fighting cells, is to nourish them with cancer-fighting foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Early morning sunshine is a good source of Vitamin D, also a disease-busting vitamin. And, of course, water and fruit-infused drinks such as lemon water are great ways to hydrate the body.

Caregivers and cancer are mortal enemies. Cancer is a hard opponent to beat, but caregivers can help the patient dodge the dangerous complications brought about by colds and flu—by simply being extra careful, clean, and caring.


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