5 strategies to reduce the risk of infections in sickle cell disease

A doctor and columnist shields her cousin (and herself!) with these habits

Sylvia Amuta avatar

by Sylvia Amuta |

Share this article:

Share article via email
banner for Sylvia Amuta's column

Sickle cell is an inherited disease that profoundly affects red blood cells, posing significant health challenges for those living with the condition. My cousin Ada has bravely confronted this hereditary disease, and together we’ve traversed its ups and downs.

Among the many concerns we’ve learned to manage, one paramount issue is her heightened risk of infections. Based on my knowledge as a doctor, following are five strategies that have significantly enhanced our well-being and reduced Ada’s vulnerability.

1. The ritual of pristine hands

Imagine infusing your day with a ritual: a meticulous hand-cleansing routine. Once we return home from our day’s activity, we stand by the sink, methodically erasing potential threats. While some might consider that excessive, for us, it’s an essential step in safeguarding Ada’s health.

Whether you’re a caregiver for someone with sickle cell disease or living with it yourself, integrating hand hygiene into your daily routine is crucial. We even keep alcohol-based sanitizers on hand for emergencies. This simple yet effective practice serves as a shield against disease transmission.

Always remember to wash your hands before cooking, before meals, before administering medications, after using the restroom, after touching your face, or when encountering potentially infectious surfaces.

Recommended Reading
An illustration shows a close-up view of red blood cells.

Higher hemoglobin levels tied to lower end-organ damage risk

2. Avoid contact with reptiles

Exotic creatures such as tortoises or snakes can captivate the curiosity of some. While these animals may intrigue us, they also harbor a less appealing bacterium known as Salmonella, which presents distinct risks to individuals with sickle cell disease.

Thankfully, we have a strong aversion to reptiles in our household, simplifying the task of keeping a safe distance from them. This precaution is especially vital for the younger members of our family to safeguard their health.

3. Food: Ally and adversary

We’ve had to exercise heightened caution with food, since sickle cell disease, especially in children, demands a meticulous approach to diet. Certain foodborne bacteria, such as Salmonella, can spell trouble. We learned this lesson the hard way during an outdoor gathering when Ada enthusiastically indulged in her favorite dish: rice and coleslaw.

Upon our return home, Ada’s health rapidly deteriorated. Initially, I attributed her discomfort to exhaustion from the event, but her condition worsened. She began suffering from severe abdominal cramps, bouts of vomiting, and persistent diarrhea. To my dismay, my husband also began displaying similar symptoms, leaving me with strong suspicions that coleslaw was the culprit, as they were the only ones from my household who consumed it.

Since that unfortunate incident, Ada barely eats coleslaw anymore, and we’ve grown more vigilant and discerning regarding our food choices during social gatherings. This experience served as a stark reminder of the paramount importance of adhering to strict food safety practices.

As a result, we’ve adopted the following habits:

    • Thoroughly disinfecting every surface in our kitchen after handling raw food
    • Rinsing fruits and vegetables before serving
    • Ensuring meat is thoroughly cooked, with no pink in the middle
    • Avoiding raw or undercooked foods
    • Choosing only pasteurized dairy products
    • Properly refrigerating our foods.

4. The strength of vaccination

Vaccines play a vital role in the battle against life-threatening illnesses. It’s crucial to get all recommended immunizations, including the annual flu shot for everyone over 6 months old.

As a healthcare professional, I have no excuse for not ensuring Ada is up to date on her vaccine schedule, including protection against meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

Staying on top of the vaccination schedule is nonnegotiable for me.

5. The armor of penicillin

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are important in preventing infections, occasionally serving as literal lifesavers. In Ada’s case, she didn’t receive penicillin here in Nigeria when she was younger, and she’d surpassed age 5 by the time I became her caregiver. I often contemplate whether the absence of penicillin during her early years contributed to her vulnerability to various illnesses.

Nonetheless, research shows that regular penicillin use provides an additional layer of protection against infections. Young sickle cell warriors should continue taking antibiotics until they reach age 5, particularly to shield against diseases like aplastic crises, often triggered by the fifth disease virus. It’s crucial for parents to uphold this regimen.

When it comes to managing sickle cell, prevention is paramount. Prioritizing well-being and adopting these simple yet powerful steps can make all the difference in leading a healthier life.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Jacqueline Medler avatar

Jacqueline Medler

Thank you for your great work with SCD. I am very conscience of germs and food being cooked well. Thank you again and your
work is needed and appreciated. Much Love, In Jesus' name Amen

Sylvia Amuta avatar

Sylvia Amuta

I'm glad I could provide some insight and advice. Thank you.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.