The coronavirus outbreak has had a massive ripple effect throughout the United States, and mesothelioma patients are caught in it.
The spread and fear of COVID-19, which is one of many types of coronavirus diseases, has led to event cancellations and international travel restrictions. There have been weekslong lockdowns of businesses and a rush to vaccinate the general public.
People with mesothelioma should be especially cautious. The current state of their health and immune system leaves them vulnerable to the worst of the coronavirus.
We at Mesothelioma Guide want all mesothelioma patients — and anyone close to a patient — to take immediate precautions regarding their lifestyle. We have outlined information explaining why mesothelioma patients should be alarmed, plus some safety tips to follow throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
We also understand that, as a mesothelioma patient, you may have further concerns about how the coronavirus can impact you. Karen Ritter, our patient advocate and registered nurse, is available to answer any questions. Please email her at email@example.com if you wish to speak with a medical expert.
Why Mesothelioma Patients Are at Risk of Coronavirus
The coronavirus outbreak impacted the United States for two years and counting. Despite the emergence of vaccines to protect people, the virus remains a part of everyday life and conversation.
Mesothelioma patients remain at risk of infection and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people with respiratory ailments or diseases are in particular danger. According to the organization, people who have lung disease are at a higher risk of getting a severe case of coronavirus.
The coronavirus is a respiratory illness, similar to the flu or common cold. The virus targets your lung, where the disease then replicates over and over until it overwhelms the lung’s otherwise-healthy cells.
Mesothelioma often develops in the lining of the lung cavity. This form of mesothelioma is called pleural mesothelioma, and the disease often spreads to the lungs and other parts of the thorax.
A pleural mesothelioma patient’s immune system is already struggling and lungs are already full of diseased cells. Contracting coronavirus, in addition to having mesothelioma, can overwhelm the patient’s body. The results could include lung swelling, cellular or fluid waste, cellular growth in the lining of the air sacs, and irregularly giant cells.
High Death Rates for Mesothelioma Patients
A hospital in Spain proved how deadly COVID-19 can be for people with mesothelioma. There were seven reported cases back in 2021:
- Five died, a mortality rate of 71%
- Four of the deaths were attributed to COVID, meaning more than half the patients who contracted COVID passed away from the virus
- Six (85%) of the seven patients were hospitalized
One death was attributed to progressive cancer disease. The average time to death was two weeks following COVID diagnosis.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Mesothelioma Patients
The decision to get vaccinated is a personal choice. We at Mesothelioma Guide will not suggest anyone get vaccinated or not get the vaccine. We only encourage patients to speak with their oncologist about the decision — and trust their guidance over anything said by a friend or relative, or read online.
The most important thing someone with mesothelioma can do regarding the COVID-19 vaccines is trust the advice of their doctor.
Here are a few facts from studies and nonprofit medical organizations regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for cancer patients and the protection the vaccine offers people with mesothelioma:
- The National Comprehensive Cancer Network urged people with solid tumor cancers (like mesothelioma) to get vaccinated immediately. The only exception is surgery patients, who should schedule their vaccine a few days before or after their surgery date.
- One of the questions cancer patients ask about COVID-19 is, “Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine even if I’m undergoing cancer treatment?” The fear is chemotherapy or immunotherapy will dilute the effectiveness of the vaccine, or the vaccine will impair cancer therapy. Researchers evaluated 169 patients with solid tumors – like asbestos-causing mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and more – who were receiving cancer treatment at the time of their first vaccine shot. Most of the patients were protected after getting the vaccine.
- Receiving a second dose of the vaccine, plus booster shots when eligible, is important. After the first dose, only 29% of people with solid tumor cancer expressed the antibodies needed to fight a COVID infection. By comparison, 84% of the general public expresses the antibodies after the first dose. The second rose increased the protection rate for cancer patients to 86%.
Steps to Protect From COVID-19 Infection
Here are some other tips from Mesothelioma Guide about how to stay safe and avoid potential COVID-19 exposure and infection:
- Wash your hands often and effectively: Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. Do this before eating, after touching surfaces in public (including door handles, railings and more), and after using the bathroom.
- Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces: These items could include anything from basic household appliances to countertops. They are easily infected, and the virus can transfer from the object or surface to your hands.
- Respond to symptoms immediately: Consult with your doctor if you show any coronavirus symptoms. Get tested as soon as you can.
- Protect against other viruses: Coronavirus isn’t the only disease that can affect mesothelioma patients. As a precaution, consider getting vaccinated for influenza.
Similarities Between Mesothelioma and Coronavirus
Aside from both affecting the lungs, mesothelioma and the COVID-19 coronavirus have other similarities.
Coronavirus causes flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, fever, fatigue, sore throat, shortness of breath and trouble breathing. These symptoms also apply to mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, in particular, often leads to shortness of breath.
Coronavirus and mesothelioma are also alike in whom they can affect. Any person can develop either disease.
Coronavirus is contagious and spreads easily from person to person. The spread of this coronavirus occurs from droplets emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These virus-containing droplets can then enter your body through the nose or mouth.
Mesothelioma is not contagious and only forms due to asbestos exposure. However, this characteristic also means anyone who comes into contact with asbestos is in jeopardy.
Dr. Peter Lin, a family physician in Toronto, Canada, spoke about the coronavirus on a CBC News video published on YouTube.
Why the Elderly Are at Risk
Coronavirus and mesothelioma also each have the worst effect on the elderly. Mesothelioma develops more often in older people because it can take multiple decades to fully form. Elderly mesothelioma patients often have shorter survival times than younger ones because their body isn’t strong enough to withstand the cancer.
While coronavirus forms much quicker than mesothelioma does, the elderly often are not strong enough to fend off the virus as easily as younger patients.
The CDC backed up the belief that older people are at an increased risk. The center’s report states that older people are two times as likely to contract a severe case of coronavirus.
An article from the New York Times reported that a coronavirus outbreak at a nursing home in Seattle, Washington, resulted in seven deaths. The article also cited statistics that 15% of coronavirus patients age 80 or older die from the disease.
Clinical Trials and Legal Cases Stop and Start Up Again Amid Pandemic
The legal system, which did take a pause for a few months, went virtual for a bit and has returned to in-person hearings. Clinical trials, which also stopped during the height of the pandemic, have restarted and are accepting patients again.
Legal claims had a steep decline in 2020 from 2019, but they’ve stabilized in 2021 and 2022. The number of mesothelioma claims actually has increased a bit in 2022 compared to 2021. Mesothelioma claims now make up more than 50% of all asbestos claims in the United States.
This is good news for mesothelioma and asbestos-disease victims, who have waited patiently for their deserved compensation or to receive groundbreaking treatments. If you’re wanting to file a mesothelioma claim, you can do so in-person like usual again. The courts are fully operational just like before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
If you’d rather avoid in-person contact with strangers at a courthouse, you can talk with your lawyer about virtual legal options. The COVID-19 pandemic helped usher in virtual options for nearly every aspect of daily life, including legal steps and medical appointments.
Drop in Hospital Visits Initially
Medical appointments and diagnoses have also returned to normal. In 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there were fewer new cases of mesothelioma. Experts chalked this up to people skipping medical appointments.
From March 1 through April 18, the first seven weeks of the pandemic:
- The weekly diagnostic average for these six cancer types declined by 46.4%.
- Breast cancer diagnoses dropped by 51.8%.
- New pancreatic cancer cases decreased by 24.7%.
- There were 4,310 weekly diagnostic tests prior to the pandemic. The number dropped to 2,310 during the crisis.
Mental Health and Support Resources
Fearful of a coronavirus infection while they’re immunocompromised, many have taken extreme precautions. Even with those safety measures, they likely are grappling with fear, depression and other hardships.
Thankfully, many organizations have become champions for cancer patients — providing emotional support and counseling to cancer patients.
CancerCare has tips to help people with mesothelioma practice social isolation while not sacrificing their mental health:
- Follow a schedule — Maintain as much of your usual routine as possible to feel accomplished.
- Engage in hobbies — Whatever you enjoy, whether it’s reading a book or watching TV, fill your day with positive events.
- Exercise, if possible — Even if you can’t go outside, any type of stretching or walking indoors is beneficial to your mental health
- Use technology for communication — Meet with loved ones in video calls, play online word games and use the internet for your social interactions.
CancerCare also has counselors and other support staff members available to speak with you, if needed. The organization’s HOPEline is a free service and provides access to a trained oncology social worker, who can help you through periods of distress during isolation.
CancerCare’s HOPEline is available Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (eastern time).
Online Support Groups
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations have extended their resources to help as many people as possible. The primary goal is to assist cancer patients with the emotional and psychological toll of this health crisis.
A few of the organizations with resources for mesothelioma patients are:
- Cancer Support Community
- Esteemed medical facilities and Centers of Excellence
- The National Cancer Institute (NCI)
The Cancer Support Community is a free support network for cancer patients and their families. They have counselors available for immediate communication through the organization’s Cancer Support Helpline. Specialists are available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Health System is one of many health institutions with remote services available to mesothelioma patients and their families. UCSF’s oncology social workers are accessible Monday through Friday, by phone or video conference, and can provide supportive care and psycho-oncology service.
The NCI’s Cancer Information Service is a free resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones. People with this cancer have many questions related to the coronavirus pandemic — including how to proceed with treatment.
The NCI service can answer these inquiries. The government-sponsored organization provides specialists via phone call or online chat, whichever the patient or family member prefers. Help is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (eastern time).
We again encourage anyone with questions about COVID-19 safety, similarities between COVID and mesothelioma, or the vaccines to contact our team. Karen Ritter, our patient advocate and registered nurse, is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please speak with your medical doctor, though, first and foremost as they are the trusted expert.
Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 and Mesothelioma
How Much of a Risk Do Mesothelioma Patients Face?
People with mesothelioma are at a high risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus. The presence of mesothelioma weakens your immune system. This hinders your body’s ability to fight back against viruses like the coronavirus.
Additionally, mesothelioma and coronavirus are similar. Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that targets your lungs. Since mesothelioma often forms in the lining of the lungs, tumors can spread to this organ.
My Family Member Is a Mesothelioma Patient and Lives With Me. What Should I Do?
You don’t want to become infected with the coronavirus and have it spread to your loved one. Take precautions: Wash your hands regularly, disinfect surfaces and objects, limit how often you leave your home, and keep a safe distance from others. As an extra safeguard, stay at least 6 feet away from your loved one — unless you’re their caretaker and they need your assistance.
What Are the Symptoms of the Coronavirus?
The symptoms of this coronavirus are similar to the flu: fever, body aches, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, diarrhea and runny nose. The other common coronavirus symptom is shortness of breath. Some of these are similar to mesothelioma symptoms.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Cancer Patients?
Cancer suppresses the immune system, so cancer patients have difficulty fighting illnesses like COVID-19. Many cancer patients are on chemotherapy, which further hinders the immune system and weakens the body.
I Am a Caretaker of a Mesothelioma Patient. Should I Stop Working?
Staying inside your home will reduce your risk of contracting the virus. If you can work from home, you should consider doing so. Your employer may also provide extra paid time off to allow employees to stay safe.
Many Americans are unable to work from home, though. We don’t want anyone to struggle financially due to taking time off from work, so please do what you think is best. Consult with your employer’s HR representative first to learn your options.
What Else Can I Do to Protect From COVID-19 Infection?
There are numerous safety measures you can take. Here is a list to follow during the coronavirus outbreak:
- Avoid large crowds.
- Avoid touching your face, nose or mouth.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.
- Disinfect objects and surfaces.
Sources & Author
- Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). World Health Organization. Retrieved from:
https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses. Accessed: 03/11/2020.
- Tracking Every Coronavirus Case in the U.S.: Full Map. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html. Accessed: 03/12/2020.
- People with Certain Medical Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. Accessed: 11/17/22.
- Get the facts on coronavirus. CBC News. Retrieved from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIL5m5XznNY&feature=youtu.be. Accessed: 03/11/2020.
- Nursing Homes Are Starkly Vulnerable to Coronavirus. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/health/coronavirus-nursing-homes.html. Accessed: 03/12/2020.
- Pulmonary pathology of early phase 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pneumonia in two patients with lung cancer. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. Retrieved from:
https://www.jto.org/article/S1556-0864(20)30132-5/pdf. Accessed: 03/12/2020.
- Upcoming Symposium rescheduled for later in the year. Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.curemeso.org/2020/03/04/upcoming-symposium-rescheduled-for-later-in-the-year/. Accessed: 03/12/2020.
- International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Retrieved from:
https://www.curemeso.org/get-involved/attend-conferences-and-events/symposium/. Accessed: 02/13/2023.
- COVID-19 Leads to High Hospitalization and Mortality in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. OncLive. Retrieved from: https://www.onclive.com/view/covid-19-leads-to-high-hospitalization-and-mortality-in-malignant-pleural-mesothelioma. Accessed: 09/09/2021.
- Long-term Immunogenicity of BNT162b2 Vaccine in Patients With Solid Tumors. JAMA Oncology. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2791657. Accessed: 05/07/2022.
- Recent Cancer Diagnoses Far Short of Expectation. MedPage Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medpagetoday.com/hematologyoncology/othercancers/87899. Accessed: 08/18/2020.
- Serologic Status and Toxic Effects of the SARS-CoV-2 BNT162b2 Vaccine in Patients Undergoing Treatment for Cancer. JAMA Oncology. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2781608#coi210040r1. Accessed: 08/05/2021.
- COVID-19 Vaccines and People with Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines-people-with-cancer. Accessed: 06/06/2023.
- What Cancer Patients, Survivors and Caregivers Need to Know about the Coronavirus. Cancer Support Community. Retrieved from:
https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/blog/2020/04/what-cancer-patients-survivors-and-caregivers-need. Accessed: 04/14/2020.
- FAQ: Coronavirus and Patients with Cancer. University of California San Francisco Health. Retrieved from:
https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/faq-covid-19-for-patients-with-cancer. Accessed: 04/14/2020.
- Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from:
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Sources & Author