Taming the Germs of Winter — and Tips for Food Safety

Patient Education Notes

Preventing infection is a top priority if your immune system has been weakened by illness or cancer treatment, and winter poses new challenges. Outside, shorter days mean less sunlight, single-digit temperatures, and low humidity. Inside isn’t much better; closed windows and insulation trap dry, overheated air and germs in the house. Inside or out, winter can cause health issues for cancer survivors.

Protect Yourself

Winter is flu season. If you have not already done so, talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot. If your condition prevents you from getting immunized, make sure those around you get vaccinated. Remember to advocate for your own health and safety. If friends or family are not feeling well, ask them to postpone their visit! This is extremely important. What might be an annoying sniffle to them could be quite dangerous to you. If your caregiver or a household member gets sick, contact your doctor.

Personal Hygiene

Your skin is your first line of defense against infection. Cold, dry, winter air causes skin to crack, which makes you more susceptible to infection. Keep your skin clean and moisturized. Bathe regularly, pat yourself dry with clean towels, and dress in clean clothes. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, covering your mouth during a cough, and when they get soiled. Hand sanitizer is effective when hands are not visibly soiled. Rub sanitizer over the entire surface of both hands until it dries. Handwashing and sanitizers can be very drying to your skin, so take a little extra care during the winter months.

Preventing and Alleviating Dry Skin

  • When bathing, do not use steaming hot water.
  • Use plain soap.
  • Antimicrobial soaps are drying, and plain soap is just as effective for preventing illness.
  • Use a good moisturizer – regularly. Over-the-counter moisturizers may work fine.
    • Avoid drying ingredients like alcohols and acids.
    • If you have allergies or other concerns, consult your pharmacist.
    • Apply moisturizers after bathing or washing hands, while your skin is still damp. This locks in moisture.
    • Use heavy, oil-based creams on drier areas, such as legs, hands, and feet, but you may need something lighter/water-based for your face.
    • Do not share your moisturizer.
    • Dispose of moisturizers after three months. Do not add more moisturizer to an old container.

Pick up a copy of “Tips for Healthy Skin” from the Resource Center for Patients and Families inside the hospital’s Sunflower Café. And check out More Winter Skin Care Tips (Cancer.net – the patient information website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)).

A portion of infographic displaying the benefits of practicing food safety.
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Food Safety

Following these guidelines can help keep you healthy and well, allowing you to rest and recover through the long winter months.

  • What we eat and how it is prepared can have a major impact on our health. If you are neutropenic (have a very low white blood cell count), be sure to follow the guidelines your doctor or nurse provides.
  • Every person should follow some simple food-safety guidelines to stay healthy and avoid foodborne illnesses.
  • This booklet is available in the Resource Center (inside the cafeteria, on the first floor of the hospital), from nursing staff, or online: Food Safety for People with Cancer.
  • Check out some additional tips from our blog: Food Safety: Staying Healthy at Home.

This article was provided by Roswell Park’s Patient Education Department. Questions or comments? Please call 716-845-8784.

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