Children's Views of Microbes: Current Beliefs About Bacteria in Italian Grade School Children

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Introduction:The misuse of antibacterials and the consequent emergence of resistance indicate that enhanced awareness is required among clinicians, patients and the general population of the collaborative roles of the bacterial ecosystem in health preservation. The objective of this work is to assess school students’ knowledge and perception of microbes.Methods:In preparation for a meeting of health professionals concerning antimicrobial policies, a questionnaire for administration to children from fourth to eighth school grades was developed, exploring their understanding of bacteria, use of antibiotics and hygiene.Setting:Twenty-eight classrooms in north-central Italy, 7 from fourth to fifth grade and 21 from sixth to eighth grade.Results:Four hundred ninety-nine students with a mean age of 12 years participated in the study. For 60% of the children, the notion of bacteria centered on their harmfulness; only 25% of the interviewees acknowledged a positive role. Antibiotics were perceived as the absolute weapon against both viruses and bacteria by 56% of respondents and most cases of domestic health impairment by 46% of respondents. The proportions of children being treated at the time once or more than once with an antibiotic were 23 and 24%, respectively. Little difference emerged between the notion of cleansing as opposed to disinfecting.Conclusion:Children's confused understanding of bacteria and the lack of a specific contribution from schools suggest that health professionals should engage further in educational activities in the community to overcome this problem. Relevant policies may benefit from being targeted at children directly because they are more open to new ideas and can spread in their milieu the idea of a “reconciliation” with the microbial world.

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