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Fourth SAVSNET survey hints at recovery
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By Arabella Gray

Vet practices across the UK are showing signs of a return to normality, with increasing consultation volumes and vaccinations.

The fourth Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) survey – published on 15 July – collected data from almost 500 companion animal veterinary sites around the country to determine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings suggest a steady return to normal consultation volumes across all species, using the median 2019 volumes as a proxy for ‘normal’ levels.

Although SAVSNET initially reported a huge increase in teleconsults over the first social distancing phase (23 March to 13 April), it appears that these are now reducing, hinting at a gradual return to normal levels of in-person consultations.

There is also evidence of an increasing trend in vaccination consultations. In a previous survey, it was reported that vaccinations in animals under the age of 6 months remained relatively high (while the number of those for older animals were reduced compared to the same period in 2019). However, this figure is now reducing and the recent survey reported an increase in the median age for vaccinations, suggesting that vaccination patterns are also returning to normal.

Sarah Caddy, a virologist at the University of Cambridge and SAVSNET collaborator, said: ‘[an increase in vaccinations] may be affected by a surge in demand for new companions during lockdown’.

The survey results also indicate an observed reduction in major presenting complaints, such as gastroenteric and respiratory clinical signs. However, it remains unclear whether social distancing measures or practice presentation have had a degree of impact on actual disease incidence.

Conversely, a gradual increase in trauma consultations may be more likely to reflect a change in animal exercise patterns directly caused by Covid-19 lockdown measures.

The latest survey highlights that there has been no major increase in the prescription of antimicrobials during the pandemic. It had been thought that practitioners may have increased the frequency of antimicrobial prescriptions to avoid repeat visits during lockdown.

The survey also highlighted an increase in PCR testing of vaccine-preventable diseases to near – or in some cases, in excess of – pre-Covid-19 levels.

Vaccinations in animals under the age of 6 months remained relatively high during the early stages of lockdown in the UK

It is more important than ever to continue to monitor and report key trends

Although these results are certainly encouraging for the profession, Grace O’Gorman, a National Office of Animal Health technical policy manager, said: ‘The dynamics of the recovery period are uncertain, and it is impossible to predict the impacts of easing Covid-19 restrictions...it is therefore more important than ever to continue to monitor and report the key trends emerging over the coming months’.

These SAVSNET surveys are currently being run on an ad hoc basis. The full reports for all of these ‘Impact of Covid-19’ surveys can be found at www.liverpool.ac.uk/savsnet/covid-19-veterinary-practice-uk/

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