Monocytes are a type of white blood cell produced by the bone marrow. Their specific role is to destroy infectious organisms that invade the body and cancer cells. Monocytes typically circulate throughout the bloodstream for a period of one to three days prior to being distributed to tissues in the spleen, lung, liver and bone marrow where they mature into primary immune system cells. Monocytopenia is the medical term associated with a low monocyte blood cell count.
Low monocyte counts generally do not cause specific symptoms. It is most likely that the signs of some type of an infection will be noticed by someone suffering from a low monocyte blood count. The symptoms of the infection will then trigger a visit to the doctor. Frequent signs of these types of infections include flu-like symptoms, coughing, sore throat, chills and fever, and frequent urination.
Monocytes are produced in the bone marrow. Therefore, any disorder or chemical that affects the function of the bone marrow may potentially cause a low monocyte count. Examples of disorders that impact the bone marrow include HIV, aplastic anemia, tuberculosis, malaria, Epstein-Barr virus, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Medications that may suppress the function of the bone marrow include orally administered interferons, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or corticosteroids. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 and folate may also cause a low monocyte blood count.
A low monocyte blood cell count diagnosis is based on the results of a complete blood count from a sample removed from the patient's vein. A bone marrow biopsy may also be ordered to attempt to diagnose the cause of the condition.
A low monocyte blood cell count increases susceptibility to infections. The degree of increased risk depends on the severity and cause of the monocytopenia, as well as the patient's overall medical condition. The most common types of infections resulting from monocytopenia are caused by bacteria that normally resides on human skin or those that are in the gastrointestinal and urinary tract.
Treatment for this disorder varies depending on its severity, underlying cause and existence of associated secondary infections or symptoms. The patient's overall general health is also a determining factor. Treatments generally include antibiotics or anti-fungal medications to fight infections; white blood cell growth factor administration to increase production of white blood cells; intravenous immune globulin; or corticosteroid therapy.
While undergoing medical treatment, it is important to follow a balanced, nutritious diet and take precautions to prevent the spread of infection. Hand washing with soap and plenty of water is essential as the hands are a primary means of the spread of infection. Avoid crowds to eliminate the risk of exposure to illness. Wear gloves and a mask whenever possible.