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Minimizing Exposure to Illness & Infection for PI Patients

A proactive approach to staying healthy is just plain smart. Consistent self-care can help make your body less susceptible to illness and infection. Here are some common sense measures on avoiding exposure that apply to everyone, but which become critically important to someone with a diagnosis of primary immunodeficiency (PI).

How we
get sick
Avoid "high risk"
A few self-care

How We Get Sick

Infectious diseases and contagious illnesses are caused by microbes or "germs" – tiny organisms transmitted from person to person. Most enter the body through openings – noses, mouths, ears, anuses, or genital passages. They can also be transmitted through our skin – entering through cuts or through insect or animal bites.1 In preventing illness, offense is the best defense. Below are some excellent ways you may prevent infection before it starts, and avoid spreading illness if you are sick.


General principles of good hygiene are essential for patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases and their families. This includes regular bathing or showering and the use of soap. For some patients, the use of special germ-killing soaps may be prescribed.

Hand-washing: Regular hand washing should become routine – before and after meals, after using the bathroom, after blowing the nose, coughing, petting an animal, gardening, or visiting or caring for a sick person1 – any time there is a concern that excess germs have gotten onto one's hands

What is the correct way to wash your hands? Wet your hands thoroughly. Lather up with soap or cleanser and rub it all over – into your palms, the backs of your hands, and your wrists. Don’t forget to clean under your fingernails and between your fingers as well. Scrub for at least 20 seconds – that's probably longer than you think! Rinse under running water and dry your hands completely.1

When hands are not visually dirty, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be an effective alternative. These have the advantage of being able to neutralize germs, are portable and can be applied rapidly. The regular use of hand gels has been shown to reduce the occurrence of colds and other viral infections. Individually wrapped and disposable hand wipes are another alternative to soap and water and are excellent for on-the-go use.

Dental care: Some individuals with a primary immunodeficiency are prone to tooth decay and to infections that stem from having decayed teeth. Regular visits to the dentist, proper brushing, and flossing should be a key part of the regular health regimen.

Coughing and sneezing: Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, then throw it away. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands – this will help prevent you spreading germs to others.1

Skin care: Wash and bandage all cuts, or other openings in your skin, such as insect bites. Do not pick at wounds or blemishes, or squeeze pimples. Use insect repellents when visiting mosquito- or tick-prone areas.1

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Avoid "High-Risk" Situations

A common sense approach to infection prevention is generally the best policy to follow. Individuals with PI should avoid exposure to people who have signs of an obvious infection, like people who are coughing, have a fever or have vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Steer clear of crowds. During periods of influenza outbreaks, it might be wise to avoid crowded areas such as shopping centers, movie theatres, or day care centers.

Don't share: Avoid sharing dishes, glasses or eating utensils, as well as direct contact with napkins, tissues, or handkerchiefs used by others.

Take travel precautions: Many patients with primary immunodeficiency disease have questions about flying or other travel. When in doubt, ask the immunologist or primary healthcare provider for advice. Check out our article on PI and Travel for more information.

Practice safer sex: Engage in sexual activity only with one partner who is having sex only with you. Make sure you both have been tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Use latex or polyurethane condoms or a female condom.1

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A Few Self-Care Tips

Proactive, consistent self-care is a great way to help your body avoid susceptibility to infection and illness. Here are a few common sense recommendations:

Exercise: A healthy life style always includes exercise. Physical activity should be encouraged for all people, immunocompetent or immunodeficient. Not only are these activities good for the body, they are good for the mind, as well. Regular exercise is an excellent stress and anxiety reducer.

Sleep: Getting an adequate amount of sleep is an essential requirement for good health. Most scientists recommend a consistent number of hours of sleep per night and consistent bed times and waking times, as well.

Nutrition: A healthy diet provides nutrients essential for normal growth and development, body repair and maintenance. Make sure you eat well.

See our article Mindfulness and Healthy Living for more information on proactive, preventive self-care and health management.

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The page contains general medical information that cannot safely be applied to any individual case. Medical knowledge and practice can change rapidly. Therefore, this page should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.


1. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Website: Accessed April 17, 2019.

The remaining information included on this page has been excerpted from materials created by Immune Deficiency Foundation:

  • Immune Deficiency Foundation. General Care. Website: Accessed April 11, 2019.