Safety guidelines considered for drinking fountains after deaths
Martin Wong and Peter So
The Education Bureau and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department are studying safety measures for the use of drinking fountains after an expert group's investigation into the deaths of three children with acute febrile - or high-fever - illnesses in February and last month.
Hygiene concerns were raised over the safety of drinking fountains by Yuen Kwok-yung in the expert group's report, released yesterday. It said their use by young students at schools should be discouraged.
'Backwashing of oral and nasal secretions onto the water outlets may cause cross-infection,' Professor Yuen said.
The Education Bureau and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department both said they were consulting health officials on the use of drinking fountains. A bureau spokeswoman said it would ask schools to recommend to students not to drink directly from the fountains.
'Students should avoid drinking water from the fountains with their mouths directly. They should use water containers instead,' the spokeswoman said.
She said the bureau would liaise with the Centre for Health Protection on possible guidelines.
A drinking fountain is installed at STFA Ho Yat Tung Primary School in Tuen Mun, the school attended by Law Ho-ming, the seven-year-old boy who died in Tuen Mun Hospital with acute inflammation of the brain.
The school said yesterday the fountain was quarantined after Ho-ming's death.
Other than in schools, drinking fountains can be found in many public facilities managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
A spokesman for the department said it was discussing the issue with the Health Department. 'Guidelines may be issued,' he said.
Lam Seung-wan, honorary chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads Association, said the association would seriously consider the report and 'we should really warn them not to drink [from fountains] directly'. The association would discuss the issue with the government.
Hong Kong Kindergarten Association president Chau Choi-ngo said few kindergartens had water fountains. 'Our students are too small [to use them],' she said. 'Normally, we give each of them water.'
The report also noted the importance of ventilation in classrooms.