Cancer and its treatments may decrease the effectiveness of the body’s natural defense, the immune system.1 Some types of chemotherapy may temporarily reduce blood cell counts, including a type of white blood cell called neutrophils.2 These are responsible for fighting infection. If the neutrophils count drops significantly (a condition called neutropenia), the survivor may be at a greater risk for infections.3
Dexamethasone, a steroid medication, is commonly used in cancer treatment. It can also suppress the immune system. High doses and prolonged use of immunosuppressive drugs such as chemotherapy and dexamethasone increase the likelihood of infection.4 Older adults and those who were in poor health before treatment or had poor nutrition are also at greater risk for infection.5 Some opportunistic infections are especially common in those undergoing cancer treatment (e.g., shingles and yeast infections).6
If an employee is receiving treatment that is known to pose an infection risk, they should not work in close quarters with others who are sick, especially with contagious diseases. Nor should they work in close contact with the public, especially at certain times of year (e.g., flu season). Employees at risk of infection should not handle human or animal waste. They need access to a washroom or to have hand sanitizers readily available to reduce infection risk.