From housecats to humans: Europe’s vets deploy in COVID-19 crisis

Paris - Europe's veterinarians are stepping in to help save human lives as the coronavirus outbreak stretches medical facilities and staffing to the limit.

Many animal practices have donated crossover equipment, are helping with virus test analysis, and thousands of vets have volunteered as reserve emergency carers for patients who don't have fur or tails.

"Our expertise, our equipment, and our commitment can help save human lives," the Swiss Veterinary Society (SVS) states on its website, urging members to help where possible because "a human life is worth more than an animal life."

Around 5,000 of France's 18,000 vets have volunteered for a health reserve force being set up by the government, but not yet deployed.

In Madrid, animal doctors are helping frontline nurses and others have been installed in a new temporary hospital to manage teams and equipment said Manuel Lazaro, director of the order of veterinarians in the Spanish capital.

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But while there is no question of the desire to help, there are limits to what vets can do.

"We know how to intubate animals, but would we know how to intubate humans? They are not the same techniques," commented Bruno Tessier, who presides over the veterinary association of the wider Paris Ile-de-France region.


- Face masks and ventilators -


Himself a volunteer reserve, Tessier insisted that "no-one is suggesting" sending vets to work on the front lines, and that they would be deployed more in supporting roles.

"We do know how to respond to people with coronavirus symptoms, to do medical interviews, to prioritise" patients, he said.

"We are waiting to be called up," Tessier added.

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Vets around the continent have meanwhile donated crucial hardware ranging from syringes, protective gowns and face masks, to ultrasound machines and oxygen and pressure monitors to help out.

The veterinary faculty of the University of Bern in Switzerland has provided ventilator equipment that is much needed by patients whose lungs are ravaged by the virus.

And animal practices in Madrid and the Czech Republic have made available their laboratories for medical analysis.

"Several ventilators have been placed in reserve, but none have yet been requisitioned," SVS president Olivier Glardon told AFP.

"The next step will be to ask vets to come and provide assistance, but this is a problem because we cannot abandon our practices. We may have to call on (veterinary) students," he said.

France bans testing on human samples in veterinary laboratories, a practice that is allowed in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Italy.

By AFP bureaus

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