Coronavirus Information for Veterans with Mesothelioma
If you have mesothelioma, you may be at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19. 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
COVID-19 is a 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.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
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.
About 75% of mesothelioma cases affect the lining of the lungs and cause breathing problems. COVID-19 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).
Most mesothelioma patients are diagnosed in their early 70s, and the risk of severe coronavirus complications increases in seniors. In 2020, 81% 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:
The virus has swept the entire globe — as of early 2023, there have been over 750 million cases and nearly seven million deaths from COVID-19.
Is There a Cure for COVID-19?
Though there was no known cure or vaccine at the start of the pandemic, significant progress has been made. Currently, there are a number of vaccines and boosters available that can greatly reduce the chances of getting COVID-19.
There are also many treatments available for those who do contract the illness, including antiviral medication and even antibody treatments for those with severe cases. Getting vaccinated can also weaken the virus' effects if you get infected.
Coronavirus vs. Mesothelioma
Both COVID-19 and mesothelioma share the following symptoms:
Shortness of Breath
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 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 coronavirus like loss of taste or smell.
VA Coronavirus Resources
The VA understands the 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: Through this service, veterans can attend digital doctor’s appointments through their smartphone or computer.
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.
Veterans looking to get vaccinated or vaccine boosters can reach out to local VA medical centers or facilities. Many VA clinics will offer COVID-19 vaccinations. Veterans, as well as their spouses and primary caregivers, may be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination through the VA.
The VA highly encourages everyone to get a vaccine as it's the best way to stay safe against this virus.
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:
Vaccination Data: The VA has fully vaccinated 4.8 million veterans and employees.
Diagnosis data: Nearly 850,000 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 February 2023
Mesothelioma Treatments During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The coronavirus initially disrupted many aspects of life — including treatments for mesothelioma and other cancers. Learn more about accessing mesothelioma treatments as hospitals shift to less strict COVID policies.
Consult with your doctor to see which COVID-19 restrictions (if any) may apply to you while undergoing chemotherapy.
Though many pandemic restrictions have eased up, you're still at a high risk of COVID-19 complications if you have mesothelioma and are being treated with chemotherapy. If you are taking chemotherapy in pill form, you may be able to get a prescription shipped right to your door.
"When you are going through chemotherapy, it depresses your immune system, making the patient more vulnerable to illnesses."
– Chris Pond, VA Nurse Manager
Mesothelioma surgeries to remove cancerous tumors often require long recovery times, during which you will be very weak. In the initial phases of the pandemic, doctors had to weigh the benefits of surgery against the possible risk of coronavirus infection among their patients.
Today, it's likely that your doctors will recommend surgeries as long as precautions are taken to prevent you from being exposed to COVID-19 until you are fully recovered.
To get a better idea, ask your doctor if the pandemic may impact your ability to get mesothelioma surgery or not.
Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy may weaken your immune system and increase the risk of coronavirus complications. That said, as the COVID-19 pandemic has somewhat lessened in the last couple of years, it's likely that radiation therapy could be an option for you today.
Ask your doctor if you're concerned about the possible COVID-19 risks before agreeing to undergo radiation therapy.
Should I Visit a VA Hospital During the Pandemic?
This depends on your specific health care needs. If you're concerned about contracting COVID-19, you may be able to get some initial health care screenings done at home.
You can also wear a face mask and/or get vaccinated ahead of time if you decide to go to an in-person hospital visit.
While the pandemic is still ongoing, doctors have many more ways to protect you than they did in 2020. It's likely that in-person visits now pose fewer COVID risks — and, when fighting mesothelioma, in-patient treatments like surgery can help you live significantly longer.
Ultimately, the decision to visit a VA hospital is up to you and your health care providers.
Where Can Veterans Learn More About the Coronavirus?
It is important for veterans to make sure that the information they receive about the virus is coming from trusted sources. There is, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 circulating, even after years of research and study.
Respected sources for COVID-19 information include:
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
To reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, veterans with mesothelioma should follow CDC guidelines.
The CDC’s coronavirus safety tips include:
Getting vaccinated and boosted
Getting tested if you have possible symptoms or were exposed
Wearing a mask when out in public
Washing hands regularly
If you or a loved one is experiencing coronavirus symptoms and has mesothelioma, contact a medical professional immediately. Doctors can help you monitor the disease and recommend treatment options as needed.