RALEIGH, N.C. — Veterinary hospitals are donating breathing machines, masks, gowns and other vital equipment and supplies purchased with Fido in mind, but now being redeployed to help doctors fight the spread of COVID-19 among humans.
“We buy at the same stores,” said Paul Lunn, dean of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, which on Monday turned over two full-service ventilators, 500 protective suits and 950 masks for use in area hospitals. “There’s no difference in the equipment.”
In response to a call last week by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for materials to combat the pandemic, vet schools from North Carolina to Colorado to New York are stepping up.
There are 30 fully accredited veterinary medical schools in 26 states, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Of those, 27 have veterinary teaching hospitals with comprehensive services treating everything from pet cats and dogs to horses and other large animals. Lunn said the schools have identified more than six dozen ventilators that could be commandeered for human treatment.
The 2009 outbreak of H1N1 influenza had veterinarians readying to help in this kind of emergency, he added: “This isn’t the first time we’ve prepared for this, although it’s the first time in my personal experience that we’ve actually had to pull the trigger.”
Private institutions are also heeding the call.
Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman, chair of the Infection Control Committee at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, said members of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society have identified about 100 full-service ventilators that can provide long term breathing support. She said there are also hundreds more relatively simple anesthesia ventilators — “basically like an automated hand squeezing a bag … to get air into the patient” — nationwide that could be pressed into service, though it amounts to just a dent in the overall need with officials saying tens of thousands of ventilators are needed in New York alone.
“While that may not seem like a lot, if it’s, you know, your grandmother, spouse that gets that ventilator, we’re hoping it can save a life,” she said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Experts say there is no evidence that household pets can contract the disease.