Wildfowl threat on campus

April 14, 2006

Universities with lakes and waterways populated with ducks and wildfowl and institutions with farms that keep poultry are on high alert after the arrival of bird flu in the UK.

Estates and grounds staff have been ordered to keep a watching brief across campuses and university parklands for sick or dead birds.

Institutions that could be affected by avian flu are setting up contingency plans to contain the disease should the need arise. Some have ordered specialist equipment and protective clothing to allow them to respond rapidly to any outbreak.

Precautions were being put in place as the Department of Health confirmed that, in the event of an outbreak of the human form of the disease, universities as well as schools in an affected area would be closed.

The recommendation to shut schools should the potentially deadly H5N1 virus spread to humans was contained in a leaked letter from Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer. A DH spokeswoman told The Times Higher that it would "apply to any place where there are lots of people", including universities.

The Department for Education and Skills is working with Universities UK to produce guidance on infection control for universities and colleges as part of measures to combat a possible flu pandemic.

A DfES spokesman said: "It is sensible and no secret that contingency plans are being drawn up across Government."

At Nottingham University, which has a lake with wildfowl and a farm with poultry, an incident management committee has ordered biohazard bags, disinfectant sprayers and protective clothing to prepare for a bird flu emergency.

A spokesman said: "It is something we have to address seriously."

York University, which has about 400 wildfowl living on a campus lake, said it was keeping a daily log of bird deaths.

A spokesman said: "We are ready to put measures in place to protect our students and staff."

Roehampton University, which has a lake near a wetlands centre, is preparing to leaflet staff and students. It has already given security staff kits that include protective gloves and masks and disinfectant to protect them from bird flu.

Andy Masheter, the pro vice-chancellor, said: "Our aim is to establish a good early-warning system."

Although St Andrews University is just 11km north of Cellardyke, where an infected dead swan was found, it said it was taking no special action.

A spokesman for UUK said guidelines had recently been issued to institutions on planning for a potential influenza pandemic. He said: "Were the virus to mutate into a human-to-human pandemic, the current guidelines would ensure that universities had access to basic contingency planning before government action was implemented."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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