Protecting patients with compromised immune systems – Rebecca Waters Initial Medical

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  Posted by: Dental Design      8th April 2019

There are many reasons why patients may suffer from a poor immune system. As these patients are more likely than others to contract an illness, it is necessary for professionals to understand which conditions can affect the human immune system and how to properly ensure that their dental practice remains a safe place for these people to visit.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

As a dental professional, you will likely be familiar with HIV and its impact on sufferers. Education regarding the virus has been growing in recent years, but it’s still important to understand how it affects people’s immune systems. There are currently around 101,600 people living with HIV in the UK, and although the vast majority of these cannot pass the disease on as they are virally supressed, it is still estimated that one in 12 people living with HIV are undiagnosed and therefore can spread the disease.[i]

HIV attacks CD4 cells in the body. These are a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in maintaining the efficacy of the immune system. Once the HIV virus attacks these cells it uses them to make more of the HIV virus, quickly spreading throughout the body. This affects the immune systems of those infected as they soon don’t have the frontline defence needed to ward away illness, allowing opportunistic viruses such as colds and influenza to easily take hold. 

Chemotherapy and cancer suffers

Although we have come on leaps and bounds regarding treatment of many types of cancers throughout the last few years, these diseases still remain widespread, with almost 360,000 new cases of cancer reported in the UK each year.[ii]

The majority of cancer sufferers may be offered chemotherapy as a treatment option and this, in turn, has considerable impact on their immune systems. Chemotherapy is designed to target rapidly dividing cells. Cancerous cells certainly fit this description, but so too do many healthy cells found within the body including those in the blood, bone marrow, intestines and more. It is the medication attacking the bone marrow which causes the greatest problem, as this prevents the marrow from producing enough red and white blood cells. As white blood cells are responsible for maintaining the immune system, it makes sense that with fewer of them present, individuals who have received chemotherapy are more likely to contract illnesses.[iii]

Primary immune deficiencies (PID)

Alongside diseases that can alter your immune system, there is also a portion of the population whom are born with a compromised immune system in some way. These people are considered to have primary immune deficiencies, and there are over 300 different types of these conditions on record as of today. Whilst the majority of these are incredibly rare, there are still over 4,300 people in the UK living with these conditions, meaning they shouldn’t be ignored. It is also worth noting that it is difficult to assess how many people are living with PIDs as there is no screening process in place for newborns, meaning the number may be much higher.[iv]

PIDs are caused by genetic errors, meaning that either the cells responsible for defence against disease do not function properly or that they simply aren’t there. Each of these malfunctions is different, and this is why there are so many different types of PIDs that people suffer from and why some are far more severe than others.

Autoimmune disorders

Much like a damaged immune system can cause problems, an overactive immune system can also be challenging for patients looking to avoid getting ill. Recent numbers indicate that as many as 4 million people in the UK are suffering from an autoimmune condition.[v]

People suffering from these conditions (including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis) tend to take immune suppressants in order to manage their condition, but this comes with the side effect of leaving them more susceptible to illnesses. This is because these medications limit the activity of the white blood cells, preventing them from attacking the healthy cells but also any foreign pathogens such as cold viruses as well.

Effective protection

In light of the range and prevalence of these conditions, it’s incredibly likely that you will come into contact with a patient who has a compromised immune system at some point. For individuals with these conditions, getting ill is much more problematic than for those with good immune systems as there is always a chance that they won’t be able to fend off sickness, resulting in potentially fatal implications. Therefore, you need to ensure that your practice remains a safe haven where they will be unlikely to pick up any illnesses.

Introducing antibacterial soap and hand sanitiser into waiting rooms and bathroom areas is a good step, but also using cleaning products that can effectively destroy a wide array of pathogens is necessary. The Steri-7 Xtra range of disinfectants from Initial Medical is an ideal choice. These products not only deactivate 99.9999% of fungi, yeasts, bacteria, viruses and spores, but they also benefit from Reactive Barrier Technology, meaning that pathogens cannot recolonize surfaces between cleaning cycles for up to 72 hours, providing round the clock biosecurity.

Awareness is key

As with many conditions, awareness is key to understanding. By taking the time to learn more about these afflictions and how they affect the immune system, you can see why it’s imperative to use highly effective cleaning products and to provide a safe, sanitary environment in which those affected can receive treatment.


For further information please visit Tel: 0870 850 4045




About Initial Medical Waste Experts

Initial Medical is an expert in healthcare waste management, providing a complete collection, disposal and recycling service for hazardous and non-hazardous waste and offensive waste produced by businesses and organisations within the UK.


The safe management of healthcare waste is vital to ensure your activities are not a risk to human health.  Initial Medical’s healthcare waste services ensure that all of your waste is stringently handled in compliance with legislation and in accordance with Safe Management of Healthcare Waste best practice guidelines, providing you with the peace of mind that you are adhering to current legislation.


For further information please Tel: 0870 850 4045



[i]National Aids Trust. HIV in the UK 2017 Statistics. Link:[Last accessed January 19].

[ii]Cancer Research UK. Cancer Statistics for the UK. Link:[Last accessed January 19].

[iii] How Chemotherapy Affects The Immune System. Link:[Last accessed January 19].

[iv]PID UK. The Basics. Link:[Last accessed January 19].

[v]British Society for Immunology. Report Reveals the Rising Rates of Autoimmune Conditions. Link:[Last accessed January 19].



Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 15 years and was a Research Chemist with Bayer Cropscience prior to joining Rentokil Initial in 2003.  She keeps up to date on all developments within the clinical waste management industry and is an active member of the CIWM, SMDSA and BDIA


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