After a recent family excursion to a waterpark, I found a tiny shard of metal in my toe.
I removed it using some pincers and moved on.
A week later, I had a fever, and my toe was throbbing with pain. The pain prompted me to seek medical attention. I went to the hospital.
The emergency room physician said a cut or puncture might introduce germs, causing infection. The doctor warned that an untreated infection could result in a medical emergency.
He said I had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and if the treatment was unsuccessful, it could progress into sepsis.
The nurse also told me anyone could get MRSA, but people with compromised immune systems — older people, newborns and cancer patients — are much more susceptible to severe infections and sepsis.
She suggested stress may have negatively impacted my immune system, allowing the bacteria to grow.
It is essential for mesothelioma patients and their families to be aware of infection-related risks associated with cancer treatments.
Undergoing chemotherapy and having surgery can make people with mesothelioma more susceptible to infection because of increased exposure to germs and weakened immune systems.
Clearing up the Confusion
I had many questions about skin infections when I left the ER.
A sepsis advocacy organization called Sepsis Alliance developed a website with a lot of infection-related information.
I learned about MRSA and sepsis, common treatments and methods of prevention.
Sespis.org describes numerous infection-related illnesses including:
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus: MRSA is a staph infection that is immune to certain antibiotics. Staphylococcus, or staph, is a common bacteria present on the skin. Infection occurs when there is a break in the skin, allowing staph to grow inside the body. MRSA develops when the infection becomes immune to the antibiotics used in treatment.
Sepsis: This is a medical complication that results from any form of infection including viral, fungal, bacterial and parasitic types. Sometimes, a person’s immune system stops fighting germs and bacteria and begins self-destructing. Sepsis is a serious medical condition that occurs when the body responds to the infection by shutting down. It can result in organ and tissue damage and can even cause death.
According to Sepsis Alliance, cancer patients are at a higher risk for developing infection-related complications.
Factors that can increase a mesothelioma patient’s risk for infection include:
Other cancer treatments
A weakened immune system
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can inhibit the body’s natural ability to fight off infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While chemotherapy treatments aggressively attack cancer cells, it may also damage healthy white blood cells called neutrophils.
Our bodies use neutrophils to fight off illnesses. Cancer patients are at a higher risk for developing an infection because they have compromised immune systems.
Signs of Infection: Be Aware of These Symptoms
Because mesothelioma patients are more susceptible to health complications related to infection, it is essential for caregivers to know the signs and symptoms.
Some of the signs of infection noted by the CDC include:
Fever: If a cancer patient has a high temperature, it may indicate the presence of infection.
Redness: If a surgical wound or port location becomes red, swollen or irritated, it might be infected.
Gastrointestinal Issues: Vomiting and diarrhea are potential warning signs.
Pain: Sudden, newly developed pain could warn of possible infection.
Breathing Difficulty: Experiencing shortness of breath might mean infectious growth. This is also a common symptom of pleural mesothelioma and mesothelioma treatments.
Nasal and Throat Irritation: Having a sore throat or nasal congestion can also be warning signs.
If your loved one experiences any of these symptoms, it is important to discuss them with the oncologist.
Untreated, an infection can progress quickly into a more serious medical emergency.
Signs of Sepsis
Any type of infection — located anywhere on the body — can develop into sepsis, according to the CDC.
Mesothelioma caregivers should monitor their loved one’s health and seek immediate medical attention if they suspect their loved one might have sepsis.
Some of the signs of sepsis noted by the CDC include:
Clamminess (sweaty, clammy skin)
Cognitive impairment (confusion or feeling disoriented)
Rapid heart rate
Fever and pain
Doctors diagnose sepsis when a patient experiences a combination of infection-related symptoms and show signs of sepsis. Seeking medical attention is vital as sepsis is a serious medical condition that requires emergency treatment.
Reducing the Risk of Infection
Patients and caregivers can act to reduce the risk of infection.
Making a few minor changes to a person’s daily routine can significantly decrease the chances of developing infections and more serious complications.
The CDC offers suggestions to reduce germ-exposure and infection risks such as:
Good Hygiene: Frequent, adequate hand washing, daily showering (unless otherwise directed by a physician) and practicing good dental hygiene can reduce exposure to germs.
Pet Care: Cancer patients should avoid cleaning up pet waste. It is also important for cancer patients to wash their hands after petting animals for infection prevention.
Avoid Sharing: Sharing dishes, eating utensils or personal care items (lip balm, toothbrushes, etc.) increases the risk of sharing germs and bacteria.
Proper Food Preparation: It is important to wash raw fruits and vegetables to decontaminate them. Meats should also be cooked to the appropriate temperature to avoid consuming germs.
Avoid Crowds: Avoiding unnecessary exposure to large crowds of people may help reduce a person’s risk. Getting vaccinations for the flu and other illnesses is also helpful.
Awareness of the risks is the first step to preventing unnecessary infections and related illnesses.
It is even more important for mesothelioma patients and their families to take precautions. Discuss any concerns with your oncology team to prevent unnecessary illnesses.