Low white cell count and infection
- Important contacts for your child with cancer
- Children's Cancer Services in New Zealand
- Cancer diagnosis
- What is cancer?
- Tests for cancer
- Suggestions for successful parent / caregiver support before, during and after treatments
- Central venous catheters
- Cancer treatment
- Clinical trials
- Fasting and consent for procedures
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Low blood count due to chemotherapy
- Low white cell count and infection
- Low white cell count and infection (continued)
- Low red blood cell count due to chemotherapy
- Low platelet count due to chemotherapy
- Sore mouth due to chemotherapy
- Nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy
- Loss of appetite due to chemotherapy
- Constipation due to chemotherapy
- Sun sensitivity due to chemotherapy
- Hair loss due to chemotherapy
- Fatigue due to chemotherapy
- Hand washing and hygiene
- Pain and childhood cancer
- Treatment of pain in childhood cancer
- Management of pain in childhood cancer
- Nutrition and childhood cancer
- Your child in hospital: The importance of play
- Your child in hospital: Techniques to help with treatments
- School and education when your child has cancer
- Support for the family of a child with cancer
- Going home from hospital after your child's cancer treatment
- Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in childhood cancer
- Long-term follow-up in childhood cancer
- Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support
Low white cell count and infection
Why do I need to watch for signs of infection in my neutropenic child?
This fact sheet is part of a section about childhood cancer. To access the rest of the content in this section, see Childhood cancer.
Low white cell count is called neutropenia.
White cells fight infection. There are different types of white cells with different tasks. Two of the important types of white cells are:
neutrophils which help fight bacterial and fungal infections
lymphocytes which make antibodies and help fight viral and fungal infections
Neutropenia leads to increased risk of infection. Infection in a neutropenic child can become serious quickly.
A fever is a sign that an infection may be starting. Parents who think their child may have a fever should take their child's temperature.
A thermometer can be purchased at a pharmacy or you may be supplied one from the ward. A tympanic thermometer costs more than a digital thermometer.
Your child's doctor or nurse will tell you what to do if your child is neutropenic and has a fever.
What is the best way to take my child's temperature?
If you have a digital thermometer you place it under your child's tongue or underarm until it beeps. Then read the number in the small screen.
If you have a tympanic thermometer you place it in your child's ear until it beeps. Then read the number in the small screen.
For more information about taking your child's temperature, see:
- How to take a temperature on this website
What should I do if my child has a temperature?
If your child is neutropenic and has a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher, or is feeling 'not right' and causing you concern that there may be an infection:
- phone the hospital and tell your child's doctor or nurse
- ask your child's doctor or nurse before giving your child any medicine to reduce the fever
you can find the hospital phone number in the page you printed (Important contacts for your child with cancer) and put in your folder
Normal body temperature is between 36 degees Celsius and 37.5 degrees Celsius.
A temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher is a fever.
In a child receiving chemotherapy, a fever is serious because they have a low resistance to infection. Medical advice is always required.
Medical advice is required because a neutropenic child with an infection may become ill quickly without prompt medical attention.
What will happen to my neutropenic child with a fever?
A child who is neutropenic and has a fever will usually be admitted to hospital so that antibiotics can be given intravenously. Antibiotics given intravenously act quickly. A course may take several days to complete and during the stay in hospital a neutropenic child will stay in a single room to protect them from other infections.
Where to go for more information and support
All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology.They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2013
Printed on 26 May 2013. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
DISCLAIMERThis fact sheet is for educational use only.
Please consult your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.
Fact sheets are subject to copyright. In the interests of information sharing they may be copied but acknowledgement must be given to PSNZ and Starship Foundation.
© The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 - 2012