A HOSPITAL which is battling an outbreak of fleas has begun rounding up stray cats and having them put down.
University Hospital Galway suffered an outbreak of fleas in recent weeks, leading to a number of staff being bitten. An investigation discovered the bites were caused by cat fleas.
After liaising with the HSE, environmental health and public health departments to bring the outbreak under control, the hospital has brought in a pest-control company to deal with stray cats in the area.
The cats are being rounded up and put down or re-housed.
A spokesperson for the HSE said the hospital was taking the steps because it had a "responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being" of patients and staff.
"There have been wild cats on the grounds of the hospital in recent weeks and this is one possible source of the fleas.
"We have been in contact with the Galway Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) on the matter. The cats are being removed. . . and brought to a vet to be put down or re-housed if possible.
"The vet is able to identify that these cats are wild due to their condition and the absence of microchips or collars," the spokesperson added.
The outbreak took place in the outpatient department at the hospital, which treats up to 4,000 patients each week.
While a number of staff have been bitten, the hospital stressed that there was no sign the outbreak was affecting patients. "The hospital is sorry for the discomfort to staff and for any worry this has caused," the spokesperson added.
The move to put down a number of the cats has been met with concern by animal welfare groups.
"I'd be surprised if feral cats were behind this. They stay away from buildings and humans. I think it is very unlikely that this process will solve the problem," said Dr Claudia Frank of Galway Cat Rescue.
Dr Frank added she was concerned family pets might get caught up in the cleanse.
"There have been no warnings to people living locally about this. People don't know to keep their cats inside," she said.