Universities are drawing up contingency plans to deal with a 'worst-case' scenario of significant swine flu deaths among their student population and the possible closure of their campuses as a result of an epidemic.

While Ireland's third-level institutions are preparing detailed scenarios, the Department of Education has confirmed that no extra money has been allocated to primary or secondary schools to prepare for a swine flu outbreak.

Colleges, such as Trinity College Dublin (TCD), are preparing to close their doors to the public as early as September in order to limit the spread of the H1N1 virus.

They are also preparing to offer counselling and other support services in the event of fatalities among the student population.

The virus, which has to date been relatively mild in most cases, is known to be particularly virulent among those aged under 30.

According to Dr David McGrath, head of TCD's health centre, this September's enrolment period would be a "very worrying time" as up to 6,000 students who have either been on holidays in countries with high infection rates, along with students from overseas, could arrive on campus within a two-week period.

In the event of a mass swine flu epidemic, TCD is preparing to allow staff to work from home, limit access to the college and its halls of residence, and to set up isolation bays if required.

It is also preparing to coordinate a mass vaccination programme, although this will depend upon when a vaccine becomes available.

"Obviously, if a very large number of cases occurs in a short period of time, then the Public Health Department [the HSE] may well advise the temporary closure, or restriction of access to schools and colleges across the city or country," McGrath said. "We would hope that the vaccination programme will have a significant impact on the number of cases and therefore that fatalities will be few."

He added that the college's student-counselling service has a plan in place to provide "the necessary supports to staff and students in the event of deaths from the virus".

The state's largest university, UCD, has also compiled its own detailed flu-contingency plan, which predicts that a 20% absenteeism rate among staff could seriously impact on its ability to function normally.

Based on four different levels of alert, the plan notes that it may be necessary to close the university, stop all teaching and learning activities that involve gatherings, and "identify mortuary facilities if necessary".