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How to prevent infection


St. Jude patients are more likely to get infections than other children because of their illnesses and the treatments they receive. Your child’s disease or its treatments may weaken his immune system. A common infection, like a cold, that would be mild in a healthy child can become serious in a child with a weak immune system. At times during your child’s treatment at St. Jude, he might not be able to fight infections well and may become ill as a result.

No one thing that hospital staff or parents do can prevent infection at all times. Sometimes your child will become ill even when every guideline is followed. It is important that we work together to limit your child’s exposure to the causes of infection. The hospital’s infection control guidelines and visiting guidelines offer many options for helping prevent infection. While you are at the hospital, these guidelines help ensure the health of your child and every St. Jude patient.

Infection control guidelines

  • Cleaning your hands is the most important thing you can do to limit or prevent infection. Clean your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching any item that could have a large number of germs on it. You can clean your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. See “Do you know… Clean hands” for details.
  • Learn what your child’s blood counts mean. Blood counts can tell you when it is safe for your child to have chemotherapy and when extra care is needed to prevent infections. (See the “Infection and your child” section of the Patient Family Reference Resource and “Do you know… Calculating the ANC.”)
  • Good oral care is essential; your child should brush his teeth after eating and before bedtime. This can help prevent an infection called thrush (caused by a fungus called Candida) from developing in the mouth. (See “Do you know… About Candida fungal infections.”) If your child cannot brush, see “Do you know… Mouth Sores.”
  • If you become sick, the illness may be spread to your child. Ask your doctor or nurse what steps you can take to protect your child. Most of these illnesses are spread by hands. Clean your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleaner.
    Avoid people who are ill, especially children with chickenpox (varicella) or the flu.
  • If your child has a rash or has been around anyone with chickenpox (varicella), shingles, or measles, his condition needs to be checked before he comes near other St. Jude patients. Please call your primary clinic nurse or the nursing coordinator to find out what you should do before coming to the hospital.
  • Stay away from large crowds of people until your child’s blood counts have recovered.
  • Avoid swimming pools or swimming areas, unless your child’s St. Jude doctor gives permission.
  • Stay away from animals that are not pets. Avoid pets that are unhealthy, have not had their shots, or have not been wormed regularly.
  • When your child’s immune system is weak, it is important to keep the area around him as clean as possible because dust and dirt contain fungus like Aspergillus. (See “Do you know… About Aspergillus fungal infections.”)
  • Understand and follow the hospital’s visiting guidelines . The guidelines are in place for the safety of all St. Jude patients and to help limit your child’s exposure to germs that cause infection.


  • Your child should not receive “live” vaccines, such as those for smallpox, measles, mumps, or varicella (chickenpox) unless given at St. Jude. Your child should stay away from anyone who has received the smallpox vaccine within the past 4 weeks. He should stay away from anyone who has a rash after receiving the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine.
  • Your child may receive polio shots if your doctor at St. Jude approves it. He should not take oral polio vaccine (given by mouth). Your child should stay away from children who have received polio vaccine by mouth within the last 4 weeks.
  • Flu shots, DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), hepatitis B, and Hib (“H-flu”) vaccines may be given on the usual schedule. Your child should not receive the nasal flu vaccine unless given by a St. Jude doctor.

When your child is an inpatient

  • Clean your hands well, before you enter and after you leave your child’s room; all visitors should do the same. Use either soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Daily bathing and linen changes are very important to lower your child’s risk of exposure to germs that cause infection. Your child will need a daily linen change and bath to help prevent infection. Your child will use either a soap and water bath, wipes bath, or a chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) wipes bath. Your child’s nurse will tell you which one is most appropriate for your child based on treatments he is receiving. It is important to always change the linen and take a daily bath even when your child does not feel well or wants to skip his bath for some reason.
  • The air in the hospital is highly filtered to keep it as clean as possible. In the inpatient rooms, the beds are positioned to provide patients with the most filtered air. Please do not move your child’s bed.
  • Each patient room is cleaned daily. When the housekeeper comes to clean your child’s room, please do not ask that person to come back later unless it is very important for you to be alone with your child at that moment. The room needs to be cleaned on a regular schedule.
  • Please help keep your child’s room free of clutter so the housekeeper can clean the room properly. Cleaning is more effective if the surfaces are clear of personal items and toys.
  • When the housekeeper mops, all parents and visitors should step outside the room. Once the floor is dry, they can return to the room.
  • Stored supplies collect dust, which can lead to infections. Please keep only the items you will use right away in your child’s room. Other items can be kept in the adjoining parent room and cleaned before they enter your child’s room.
  • Shoes should be worn by parents, family members, and visitors at all times, inside and outside the patient room.
  • Patients should not sit or play on the bare floor. Your child should wear slippers or shoes when he is out of bed.
  • No live flowers, plants, or standing water are allowed in patient rooms because of the bacteria and fungus that grow in them.
  • Parents and visitors should not sit or sleep on the patient’s bed. It is important to keep the number of germs low in the area where your child sleeps, especially around his face.
  • Bathrooms and bedside commodes are for patient use only. Everyone else should use the bathrooms outside the patient room.
  • Only smooth-surfaced and easy to wash toys are allowed in patient rooms. If your child needs a personal blanket or cloth toy for comfort, please discuss this need with his doctor. If the doctor allows the toy or blanket, it must be washed in the washing machine at the hospital upon admission and again before taking the item home or to the hotel. Wash the toy or blanket more often if you can.
  • Any personal items that fall on the floor need to be cleaned before using them again.
  • Separate bins are provided for dirty linen and trash. Please help us keep these items separated.
  • You may eat your meals with your child, but any leftover food must be thrown out after one (1) hour in a patient room. After that amount of time, bacteria, which may be harmful to your child, can grow on food at room temperature.
  • Food cannot be stored in patient rooms. Food attracts insects that can transmit diseases.
  • Food prepared outside the hospital and brought to your child’s room should be stored in the “Nutrition Center” refrigerator offered on each floor. Write your child’s name and the current date on each food container. Unused food will be removed every 3 days or right away if spoiled. You will be given instructions about whether your child is on a special diet or is allowed to eat foods prepared outside the hospital.
  • Water and other drinks that are sitting in a cup should not be left in a patient’s room for longer than one (1) hour. Bacteria can begin to grow in room temperature liquid after this amount of time. The ice water provided in the bedside pitcher is safe because it is cold. Memphis tap water is safe to drink. But if you prefer bottled water, the safest type is stocked on the inpatient floors.

Along with helping to prevent infections, it is important for you to keep a close watch on your child for signs of an infection, so it can be treated quickly. These signs are listed in your copy of the Patient Family Reference Resource or see “Do you know… The signs of infection.


If you have questions about preventing infections, talk to your child’s doctor or nurse.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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