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Coronavirus outbreak: what are the risks for patients with pleural plaques?

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on March 31st, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly spread throughout the U.S., surpassing China and Italy and becoming the country with the highest number of confirmed cases. With the nature of the virus, everyone suffering from lung diseases might be at high risk for developing severe complications if they contract it.

As the medical system is preparing for what is shaping up to be the worst crisis since WW2, there are still many dilemmas in what concerns the fate of those that are already sick and in need of medical care, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments in hospitals, or those in need of surgery. Strict measures have been put in place to try slowing down the spread of the virus, ensuring this way that those who are in the most vulnerable groups can be protected.

The novel coronavirus has been deemed to be a respiratory virus, that attacks the lungs and in some severe forms can lead to pneumonia or even organ failure. Studies conducted up until this point, have shown that patients with chronic diseases are at a higher risk for developing severe complications, especially those with cancer or lung diseases. Because pleural plaques are an affection attacking the lungs, the risks might be even higher for patients suffering from it.

Risk factors for the development of pleural plaques

Pleural plaques are areas of benign thickening forming in the lining of the lungs. These are primarily linked to long term asbestos exposure and could lead to the development of mesothelioma. It is estimated that nearly 50% of the people who have been exposed to asbestos will develop pleural plaques. They form through the accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs, which leads to severe irritation, and the average period in which these develop is around 40 years. Pleural plaques are usually asymptomatic, and although they are not life-threatening, they can develop into lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Depending on where the inhaled asbestos fibers have accumulated, pleural plaques can form in multiple portions of the lungs. Most often they develop in the parietal pleura (the tissue inside the ribcage) but can also develop on the visceral pleura which is the tissue covering the lungs. Over time, these plaques can calcify (around 20% of cases will suffer calcification), and they can sometimes cause serious breathing problems.

There is no need to treat pleural plaques but patients suffering from these need to regularly check on their health as these can lead to more serious diseases such as mesothelioma. Former workers in industries such as automotive or construction could have a higher chance of developing pleural plaques and need to pay closer attention to their health.

COVID-19 risks and protection measures

As COVID-19 is a new disease, the studies surrounding it are still ongoing and the risks concerning patients with pleural plaques are not fully known. It's clear though, that having a chronic underlying disease can exponentially grow the possible development of severe complications such as pneumonia. Even if having pleural plaques are not considered to be potentially life-threatening, considering the fact that COVID-19 attacks the lungs, the combination of the two could lead to severe complications since the lungs aren't healthy enough to heal and fight off a respiratory infection.

The best protection measure that can be taken at this moment is social distancing and even isolation for the most vulnerable group, which includes the elderly and people with cancer, especially those undergoing chemotherapy. Other measures that can help prevent infection with COVID-19 include:

    • Regularly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
    • Disinfect surfaces that are being touched often.
    • If someone in your household is showing symptoms of COVID-19, try to avoid close contact.
    • If you manifest symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 call your doctor before going to the hospital.

Legal help for victims of occupational asbestos exposure

If you have bilateral pleural plaques and a history of workplace or military asbestos exposure, we strongly encourage you to seek legal assistance, as you may be eligible for financial compensation. In order to become eligible, you need to have asbestos fibers in your lungs in addition to pleural plaques. Our medical specialists will offer you a free of charge asbestos screening if you do not have a diagnosis. They will carefully examine your chest X-ray for asbestos fibers which, if are present, you will qualify for filing a claim to obtain the compensation you deserve.

With nearly 30 years of experience in this area of practice, our attorneys have successfully pursued compensation for over 233,000 clients, recovering over $1.4 billion. The only documents we will need are your employment or military records and your medical records. It is important to know that you have to take legal action immediately, as asbestos exposure cases usually have a statute of limitations of 3 years in the majority of states. Please feel free to contact us for any information you might need and we will gladly help.