Coronavirus Information for Veterans with Mesothelioma

If you have mesothelioma, you may be at a higher risk of serious complications from the novel coronavirus. Fortunately, you can lower the odds of contracting this illness by following government health guidelines. You can also access medical care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if you are a veteran. Get tips on how to stay safe below.

What Veterans With Mesothelioma Need To Know About Coronavirus

What Veterans With Mesothelioma Need To Know About Coronavirus

COVID-19 is a new type of virus that emerged in late 2019. This highly contagious disease attacks the body’s respiratory system, causing flu-like symptoms and, in rare cases, severe health problems.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, it is important to stay informed about the disease and its dangers. This is especially true if you have mesothelioma, an incurable asbestos-caused cancer.

Veterans with mesothelioma may be at a higher risk because:

  1. Mesothelioma and other types of cancer weaken the body’s immune system. This makes it harder to fight off a coronavirus infection. Cancer treatments can also reduce immune system function.
  2. About 75% of mesothelioma cases affect the lining of the lungs and cause breathing problems. Coronavirus attacks the respiratory system and can make it even harder to breathe. The virus can also cause other lung diseases like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
  3. Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed in their early 70s, and the risk of severe coronavirus complications increases in seniors. 80% of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. were from those over the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Does COVID-19 Spread?

The coronavirus is contracted through exposure to other people who have the virus.

COVID-19 can be spread when an infected person:

  • Coughs
  • Talks
  • Sneezes
  • Touches a surface that a healthy person then touches

The virus has swept the entire globe — in under a year’s time, over 20 million people have been infected.

Is There a Cure?

At the moment, there is no proven cure or vaccine for the coronavirus. Several ongoing clinical trials are evaluating how patients respond to particular treatments, and the U.S. government is working with international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to keep the public updated.

Coronavirus vs Mesothelioma

Both COVID-19 and mesothelioma share the following symptoms:
Fever
Cough
Shortness of Breath
Fatigue

There are key differences between the two conditions, however. Coronavirus symptoms typically appear within two weeks after an infection, while mesothelioma symptoms gradually develop over months or and years.

Additionally, those with mild coronavirus infections usually recover in 1-2 weeks, while the symptoms of mesothelioma only worsen over time.

If you have mesothelioma, stay alert for any new symptoms that you experience, especially those exclusive to the coronavirus like loss of taste and runny nose.

VA Coronavirus Resources

VA Coronavirus Resources

The VA understands the great danger that COVID-19 poses to veterans with mesothelioma and the general public. The agency now offers several resources to help veterans get the medical care they need during the pandemic.

VA Telehealth Services

VA Telehealth allows veterans to get medical care without having to leave their homes.

VA Telehealth programs include:

  • VA Video Connect

    VA Video Connect: Through this service, veterans can attend digital doctor’s appointments through their smartphone or computer.

  • Remote Patient Monitoring

    Remote Patient Monitoring: This program allows doctors to keep track of a veteran’s health without an in-person visit. Veterans can provide medical information (like blood pressure, temperature, and pulse) to their doctors as they continue treatment. Veterans can also work with care coordinators to manage their treatments and schedule appointments.

Precautions for In-Person Visits

Veterans may need to see their doctor in person during the pandemic to access life-extending mesothelioma treatments like surgery. In these cases, VA medical teams will do everything they can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Upon arriving at [a] VA [hospital], all patients will be screened for flu-like symptoms before they enter in order to protect other patients and staff. A VA health care professional will assist you with next steps once this screening process is complete.”

– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Regular Coronavirus Updates

Regular Coronavirus Updates

Veterans can use the VA’s weekly coronavirus updates to get helpful information from a trusted source.

Coronavirus information provided by the VA includes:

  • Testing data: More than half a million coronavirus tests have been administered.
  • Diagnosis data: Over 40,000 veterans have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • VA pandemic response: The VA explains its efforts to help during the crisis, such as how it has provided resources to other agencies.

*All information above accurate as of August 2020

Mesothelioma Treatments During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of life — including treatments for mesothelioma and other cancers. Learn more about accessing mesothelioma treatments during the pandemic below.

Chemotherapy

Consult with your doctor to see if you should continue chemotherapy, as there are added risks during this pandemic.

If you are taking chemotherapy in pill form, you may be able to get the prescription shipped right to your door. In-person chemotherapy may also be available in some cases. For example, the Lebanon VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania provided chemotherapy during the lockdown in mid-March and still does so as of August 2020.

“When you are going through chemotherapy, it depresses your immune system, making the patient more vulnerable to illnesses.”

– Chris Pond, VA Nurse Manager

Surgery

Mesothelioma surgeries to remove cancerous tumors often require long recovery times, during which you will be very weak. You and your doctors must weigh the benefits of getting surgery against the possible risk of a coronavirus infection while recovering.

If a surgery will only help you lessen symptoms and not live longer, you may want to consider alternatives like medication. You can access medications without an in-person visit.

Radiation

Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy may weaken your immune system and increase the risk of coronavirus complications. Further, radiation treatments must be done in hospitals, meaning you’ll need to risk possible exposure to COVID-19.

Your mesothelioma care team can see if radiation treatments should be continued. Some physicians recommend delaying palliative radiation treatments and only continuing the treatments if they’re being used to increase your lifespan.

Should I Visit a VA Hospital During the Pandemic?

This depends on your specific health care needs. It may be better for you to use telehealth services unless in-person care is absolutely necessary. Your mesothelioma team can determine if an in-person visit is needed.

“Please contact us first before going to any VA location. Contacting us first helps us keep you safe.”

– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Before entering a VA facility, you will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and must put on a protective face mask.

Where Can Veterans Learn More About the Coronavirus?

As a new virus, there is currently a lot of misinformation spreading about COVID-19. It is important for veterans to make sure that the information they receive about the virus is coming from a trusted source.

Respected sources for COVID-19 information include:

  • Coronavirus.gov
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The CDC, VA, and FEMA have scientists, researchers, and medical staff who work to provide the most recent and accurate information available.

How Veterans With Mesothelioma Can Stay Safe From COVID-19

How Veterans With Mesothelioma Can Stay Safe From COVID-19

To reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus, veterans with mesothelioma should follow current CDC guidelines.

The CDC’s coronavirus safety tips include:

  1. Avoiding unnecessary trips — stay home
  2. Wearing a mask when out in public
  3. Practicing social distancing (staying 6 feet apart from others)
  4. Washing hands
  5. Disinfecting doorknobs, tables, and other surfaces that are frequently touched

If you or a loved one is experiencing coronavirus symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately. Doctors can help you monitor the disease and recommend treatment options as needed.