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Prevent Infection After Transplant
last updated:
Fri, 6/04/2010 10:55 AM

One of the biggest issues patients face after they have an organ transplant of any kind is the threat of infection. Transplant recipients are at a much higher risk for infection than the general public due to their immunosuppressive medications. These immunosuppressive medications are vital to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ. They act by decreasing the body’s response to fight off  “foreign” cells. This prevents the body from attacking the new “foreign” organ but it also decreases the ability for the body to fight off bacteria, viruses and fungi that may invade. This decreased ability to respond to “invaders” sets the transplant patient up for a higher likelihood of infection, including infections which could be life threatening. However, there are many simple steps that a transplant patient, and any loved ones in close contact, can take to help fight off infection.

  1. WASH YOUR HANDS. A lot. It sounds simple but your hands are in contact with your face hundreds of times a day. This gives invaders easy access to your mouth and nose, which are easy entry points to the body. The cleaner your hands are, the fewer bacteria there will be. 
  2. Avoid close contact with anyone who is ill with an infectious disease such as the flu, cold, or pneumonia. This includes close family members. The closer you are in contact with an infected person, the more likely you are to get an infection. 
  3. Avoid crowds for the first few months after your organ transplant. This doesn’t mean stay locked in your home. It simply means avoid the peak times at grocery stores, sit in a less crowded section of church, go to a matinee movie instead of the 7 p.m. showing and other small changes. Once your immunosupressive medications are decreased in a few months, you can go back to your normal routine. 
  4. Practice good food safety. Wash all your raw vegetables and fruits. Don’t consume raw meats, including raw oysters, and ensure your meats are cooked through fully. Shellfish are fine to consume as long as they are cooked properly. 
  5. Avoid contact with animal excrement. Don’t clean the litter box, fish tank, bird cage, etc. You can have contact with domestic animals, just remember to wash your hands afterward. 
  6. If you get any cut, scrape or open area on your skin, clean it thoroughly as soon as possible. Dress it with a dry dressing. If any sign of infection develops, severe redness, pus, foul smell, call your transplant coordinator. 
  7. Get your flu shot! You should get a seasonal flu shot every year, as well as the H1N1 vaccine. You should get both shots early in the flu season. If the flu season is longer than expected and the Centers for Disease Control recommends booster shots for high-risk individuals, transplant patients should get a booster. It is important to remember that can transplant patients and their in-home loved ones should ONLY get the injected flu vaccine and NOT the flu nasal sprays. The nasal sprays are live viruses designed for people with competent immune systems, whereas the injections contain a dead virus which is safe for transplant patients. Also, transplant patients should get a pneumonia vaccine every five years.

Overall, preventing infection after an organ transplant comes down to common sense. If its gross, and you touched it, wash your hands. If your friends look or sound sick, politely decline their dinner invitation. You don’t need to be afraid of germs after transplantation, you simply need to take precautions against them.

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Amanda Dean is a Nurse Practitioner at the Pre-Transplant Clinic. For more information, contact the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee at transplant@methodisthealth.org. All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and not of their employer. Information provided here is for medical education only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Locate a transplant surgeon in Tennessee or call 866.805.7710 for more information.

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Methodist Healthcare is an integrated health care delivery system, dedicated to the art of healing through our faith-based commitment to minister to the whole person. 1211 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 38104 • (901) 516-7000

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