Many youngsters oblivious to dangers of animal-human pathogens

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A recent international study found that 29% of the students did not know that animals can transmit many diseases to humans and vice versa.
A recent international study found that 29% of the students did not know that animals can transmit many diseases to humans and vice versa. Photo by philippe collard

Young people don’t know enough about the risk from pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans, researchers have found.

The school-based scientific study in Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Mauritius and Japan shows that young people know too little about reciprocal disease transmission from animals to humans, known as zoonoses, and the integrative management of health risks — the One Health concept.

One Health is an approach that recognises that human health is closely linked to the health of animals and our shared environment.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, found that 29% of the students did not know that animals can transmit many diseases to humans and vice versa.

Nearly a third of participants did not know what a zoonosis was. A similar number did not know of the One Health concept.

Furthermore, rabies was considered a non-dangerous disease by 23% of participants.

More than 60% of the 1700 known infectious diseases transmissible to humans originate from animals.

Repeated and frequent zoonotic outbreaks, such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic, are caused by human impacts on nature — in particular, the creation of huge intensive domestic animal farms and the frequent use of antibiotics in these operations.

Other factors that favor the transmission of diseases between animals and humans include the destruction of forests, the consumption of wild meat, and the illegal animal trade.

Overall, the researchers found a pronounced lack of knowledge about zoonotic risks and a lack of understanding about the contents of the One Health concept among the students involved in the international study.

“This is a public health problem that needs to be addressed,” said project leader and first author Paolo Zucca, from the Central Directorate for Health, Social Policies and Disabilities in Italy.

“It means that more than one-third of the students participating in the study are not aware of the zoonotic risk they run when they come into contact with animals from the illegal small animal trade.

“I recommend that education about zoonotic diseases and the One Health concept be firmly anchored in school curricula and syllabi by means of theoretical-practical teaching units.

Science communicator and co-author Steven Seet from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, said: “Our joint international scientific work emphasises the importance of sharing knowledge about zoonotic diseases and the One Health concept among younger generations.

“The Covid-19 pandemic shows us all that the transmission of diseases from animals to humans is not just mere theory, but a real threat.”

Jeannette Wichert, a biology and chemistry teacher at the Robert Havemann Gymnasium in Berlin, Germany, said early education and health prevention programmes in schools explain that the interrelationships of zoonoses within the framework of the One Heath concept are a fundamental prerequisite for the health of the population and the prevention of future pandemics.

Zucca P, Rossmann M-C, Dodic M, Ramma Y, Matsushima T,Seet S,Holtze S, Bremini A, Fischinger I, Morosetti G, Sitzia M, Furlani R, Greco O, Meddi G, Zambotto P, Meo F, Pulcini S, Palei M, Zamaro G (2021): What do adolescents know about One-Health and Zoonotic risks? A school-based survey in Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Mauritius and Japan. Frontiers in Public Health. Manuscript ID: 658876. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.658876/full

 

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