Feral Cats Blamed for Flea Infestation At Irish Hospital

Ireland’s Health Services (HSE) has been criticised for trapping and euthanising feral cats which were identified as being a source of a recent flea outbreak at University Hospital Galway (a hospital for people).

This is an interesting little story but it is not a current story, I would like to add. I think it dates from 2013.

Apparently, a number of staff working at the hospital in the outpatient department had been bitten by fleas over a period of weeks. The natural question to ask was where did these fleas come from?

That’s an interesting question because one immediately presumes that these were cat fleas or at least management appear to have presumed that and from that starting point I suppose somebody in authority at the hospital decided that the only source of cat fleas were the feral cats, which I also presume were somewhere near the hospital feeding on waste supplied by the hospital.

The hospital management employed a pest control company to remove the feral cats from the hospital grounds. It was reported that the cats were subsequently taken to a veterinarian to be humanely put down or relocated. It was also stated that some were rehoused, if possible. I doubt whether that was possible!

Concerned people were highly critical of the behaviour of the hospital in putting down feral cats. A spokesman for Galway Cat Rescue stated that it was almost impossible that the feral cats were responsible for the outbreak of fleas for the simple reason that feral cats are frightened of people and steer clear of them.

Genuine feral cats will steer well clear of people. Not only is the killing of feral cats inhumane under the circumstances, it is ineffective because as soon as some feral cats have been culled others will turn up in their place. In addition, everyone knows that feral cats help to keep rodent populations down and rodent populations are probably a greater hazard to a hospital than the odd feral cat.

It has been suggested that the most likely cause of the infestation of fleas in the outpatients department of the hospital was a person who walked into the hospital with the fleas on his person.

Fleas like to live in the fur of cats because the environment is perfect for a cat flea. However, cat fleas can live on people, perhaps in their clothes. It is certainly quite plausible that a person who went to the outpatients department (a patient or a member of staff) kept cats at his or her home and had failed to ensure that her home was free of cat fleas. Perhaps there was an infestation at her home. Who knows?

It just seems that once again that the feral cat has been made a scapegoat as is often the case.

22 thoughts on “Feral Cats Blamed for Flea Infestation At Irish Hospital”

  1. Note: in case any reader is wondering, the best way to check for flea frass (poop) is to finger-comb your cat after having placed a white envelope or piece of paper beneath her. spray or sprinkle water on the envelope/paper, and if it turns red, your cat is infested with fleas. Please Advantage II or Frontline, etc. (Buy the product according to your cat’s weight.)

    If you buy the Advantage II from your vet, it comes in a 3-pk, 3-mo. supply, and usually with a discount. Apply every month, year round.

    Further info, please “google” or websearch every so often. Usually, AdvantageII is the better product, but I might be wrong.

  2. Once again cats get the blame and in my opinion this time it was an excuse to get rid of the feral cats, obviously someone with power at the hospital didn’t like them being there.
    A feral cat wouldn’t go near enough to a person to pass on fleas.
    It was likely some person from a human flea ridden home who was around the hospital at a busy time sharing their fleas out with anyone who was near him or her. Human’s fleas can jump 80 times their own height!

    • Amen. My comments were intended to be glib, except for the one to Dee on bedbugs. Coverups so often occur where bedbugs are concerned, so I immediately wondered if this was again the case. Covering up an actual infestation of bedbugs by focusing on fleas from “a feral colony outside of the Universitat Galway Hospital” 😉

    • And it is Spring, still. Folks forget that they need to look after their pets year long, incl. Winter season, coming in to Spring. In fact, humans go outside ungroomed more than their so-called pets in the winter, am I right?

  3. I had to speedread, M. Why was the Galway hospital treating these cats; is it animal control facility? I am from a diff. country and quickly assume when speedreading the content, when it isn’t stated clearly up front what exactly this hospital treats, humans, animals? I got the gist of it though. I have to admit I did not scan the rest of the article after the first three PP.

    Why isn’t some individual(s) at this hospital contacting a feline rescue center, such as we have here in my city, to come and trap? And take in to their facilities, eventually to rehome after treatment, including vax, n/s, earmites, Advantage II or Frontline and emotional therapy? Am I really that ignorant? TIA, Cal.

    • Other than that, I would assume the fleas were laid on the feral “population” as an easy source of victimization. 🙁

      • Yes, that is the argument – the feral cats were too obviously the source of the infestation and the more subtle and perhaps more intelligent argument is that a person walks in with the fleas on him or her.

    • Hi Cal, sorry it wasn’t clear. Animal hospitals are extremely rare in the UK but probably much more common in America and that is why there is no need to specify that the Galway University Hospital is a hospital for people and not for animals.

      I think what happened is that the hospital management are essentially businessmen and they’re not going to think about the finer points of getting rid of feral cats such as you suggest. This is the problem with what happened. There was an insensitivity about resolving the problem.

      I have just added a little rider to the opening sentence to explain that the hospital is for people!

      • We don’t have animal hospitals here, either. Unless you consider universities like Cornell and such. 😉
        And if this particular Galway hospital, University Galway Hospital, is staffed by university students, residents and doctors, then is it wrong to assume that these energetic individuals with conscience would not have some leverage when it comes to this sort of erroneous reporting? Or is it beyond their scope? Am I simply being naive? The news source on this that you respect the most as being honest?

        It seems all too clear, that once again, the majority of human society does not give a damn about our feral cat pop. Thanks for pointing this out.

        • The problem is with the hospital management who tend to be highly insensitive and a bit stupid! There was a lot of mismanagement of NHS hospitals in England and I presume sometimes in Ireland. It may have been the case that a patient brought the fleas in with him or her when he came to treatment. It may not have been a member of staff and it was almost certainly nothing to do with the feral cats, hence my article.

  4. I found this followup article as well and read some others.

    It’s interesting that no patients complained of flea bites in an area where 4,00 patients pass through per week.

        • It wasn’t intended as a joke, just tongue-in-cheek. Over here, we’ve seen university dorms and frat houses, VA housing facilities, even wings of hospitals shut down due to bedbugs in the past few years. Much easier to blame it on a flea infestation caused by some cats, don’t you think? 😉

      • Caroline, I think bedbugs could be a possibility.
        What’s baffling is that no patient has complained of bites, only staff.

        • Why wouldn’t staff be complaining in their gossip about the alleged sources? What did they say, when you experienced these complaints. What was your intuition?

          • I do not have the full story but I get the impression that the hospital management decided that the fleas came from the cats and when that was reported the readers of the newspaper decided that the management had made a poor decision. Clearly it was a poor decision because one possible source may have been the feral cats but the hospital management should have looked at all possible sources and focused more on people but as is usually the case, the cat becomes the scapegoat.

  5. So senseless.
    A hospital outpatient department is a busy, trafficted area. There is a high risk for anything perceivable there.
    I have doubts that fleas were the problem. I would be more prone to believe that lice, perhaps in the form of scabies, was the issue. That is much more possible in any hospital setting.
    In any case, if it was indeed a flea infestation, a simple dusting inside and outside would have been the answer.


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