Not a day goes by where the global coronavirus epidemic isn’t in the news. This blog gives an update on the current status of coronavirus and the need to know information on the virus and its symptoms, transmission of the virus and your employee rights if you believe your health is at risk.

The BVNA also takes this opportunity to clarify if companion animals are likely to become infected with this strain of coronavirus, and to refresh hand washing in the veterinary practice - one of the most effective ways to reduce infection between yourself and your patients.

You can download the ‘Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands’ poster here.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a viral infection which typically causes fever and shortness of breath; it is a common virus found throughout the world but the current viral strain is known as Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), first identified in Wuhan City, China at the end of 2019.

As of the beginning of March, there have been 50 people who tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, and on a global scale has a mortality rate of 1% (10 times more than the flu). A government website provides updated cases daily and advice too.

How can you prevent transmission?

Because this strain of virus COVID-19 is so new, it isn’t exactly clear on how it is spread, however similar viruses spread via cough droplets.

Basic hygiene procedures will reduce the chances of transmission, and the NHS suggests to:

●       Cover your mouth with tissue or sleeve (not hands) when you cough or sneeze

●       Wash your hands with soap and water or use an antibacterial hand gel

●       Throw away used tissues in the bin immediately after use

●       Avoid close contact with people who are unwell

●       Avoid unnecessary touching of your face before cleaning your hands

Wearing a surgical mask can reduce the transmission by five times as it captures some of the larger droplets that contain the virus, however small particles can still be found in aerosols and move around the mask or come into contact with the eyes. The use of surgical masks are only recommended if you are working within close contact with someone who has coronavirus (like hospital staff) as keeping a distance of at least one meter reduces the chance of coming into contact with anything airborne.

The UK Chief Medical Officer has said that there is low-moderate risk of catching the virus in healthy individuals, with those who have an underlying health condition or those are vulnerable (younger and older people).

The symptoms of coronavirus include:

●       Coughing

●       Fever

●       Shortness of breath

Call 111 if you feel like you may have these symptoms and if you believe you may have come into contact with someone that has coronavirus or you have travelled through one of the high risk areas.

Coronavirus and the workplace

If a colleague is returning to work following a trip to China where there have been known outbreaks of coronavirus, there is no legal obligation to suspend them from the work place if they are not displaying symptoms. Therefore, employees should not pressure their colleagues to refrain from work. However those who have returned to work and are showing signs of infection i.e. fever and coughing, should be advised to return home and call 111 for advice. If they are subsequently diagnosed with coronavirus and signed off from work, this should be treated as sick leave and either company sick pay or SSP paid depending on your own practices sickness policy. In this instance, colleagues should also be made aware of the symptoms and advised to contact their own GP for advice.

●       If an employee has already planned a trip to or through mainland China and you wish to cancel these plans to avoid risk of infection then effort should be made to support them if the request is reasonable.

●       If an employee is planning to travel to Asia on business, then following Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice is essential. However, an employee should not be made to travel to at risk areas if they choose not to go.

Can companion animals catch this strain coronavirus?

There is no evidence that this COVID-19 can infect cats, dogs and other companion animals. There was one case reported of a dog that tested positive for coronavirus, however it was deemed to be from environmental contact (viral particles found on its mucous layers after living with an owner which tested positive) versus the dog actually being infected.

Hand washing in the veterinary practice

Hand hygiene is not only important to reduce transmission of viruses, but it reduces the risk of other disease transmission (e.g. bacterial).

Take this opportunity to refresh WHO hand hygiene - this should be done before touching a patient, after touching a patient, before any procedures (IV placement, injecting IV drugs), if you come into contact with any bodily fluids (even holding the tongue after endotracheal intubation) and after touching your patients surroundings (like bedding).

When cleaning your hands, don’t forget to cover all 4 sides to your hands and fingers, fingertips and allowing adequate contact time to be effective:

●       If using a hand wash, remember that this takes 40-60 seconds

●       If using an alcohol hand rub, remember that this needs a contact time of 20-30 seconds

●       If there is any patient gross contamination on your hands, perform a hand wash instead of using an alcohol hand rub

●       Gloves do not replace the use of effective hand hygiene, they are used to prevent gross contamination

If you have any concerns and questions over coronavirus, there are many websites mentioned above which are updated daily.

As an industry it is important to be able to reassure clients who travel with pets that there is no known risk that companion animals are able to contract the virus or are involved in its transmission.

So, let’s get hand washing and do our part in infection control!

Whilst you're here, take a moment to see our latest job opportunities for vet nurses.