A project to prevent parasitic zoonoses starts in schools

Photo from Varcasia, Sanna, Nobile

Cartoons, videos and comics to help children understand what parasites can infect their beloved animals and how to prevent these “super villains” from spreading and making people sick.

It will be “edutainment” tools that combine education and entertainment to support the training planned for schools “Carefree with our pets“, an initiative that is starting these days on both islands. The project created by researchers from the veterinary parasitology units of the University of Sassari and Messina is the winner of the Prin Pnrr 2022 call funded by the Ministry of University Research and the European Union as part of the investments planned by the Next Generation EU instrument. The plan calls for the two universities to work together over the next two years to prevent and defeat parasitic zoonosesincludingcystic echinococcosisan infection that continues to occur in the Sardinian and Sicilian countryside, transmitted from dogs to humans.

Other endoparasites that can most often be transmitted from dogs and cats to humans are roundwormsThe ancylostomidsThe strongyloides and giardia.

Image of Dipylidium caninum. Photo from Varcasia, Sanna, Nobile

“The partnership with Messina was born because Sardinia and Sicily are two regions that historically have important zoonotic problems – explains Antonio Varcasia, Full Professor, Professor of Parasitology and Animal Parasitic Diseases at the University of Sassari do Kodami – In particular, cystic echinococcosis is endemic in these regions: the municipalities of Orune and Bitti are the places in Europe with the highest incidence of this disease in humans. It is a parasitosis that is transmitted from animals to humans. These are problems that always happen because of us – Varcasia clarifies – dogs and cats are domesticated animals and people should take care of them. If it doesn’t, either there are problems with stray dogs or the owners are not taking care of them. They get sick just like us and some diseases can be passed from animals to humans. That’s why it’s important to talk to children and explain to them that it’s not animals that are dirty and contagious, but very often it’s a person who has done something wrong.”

Another important aspect that the educational project will focus on is the importance of avoidance contamination which come from dispersion in the territory dog feces. A scientific study has shown that the city of Sassari is among the most contaminated in Italy by fecal matter produced by pets. The environmental focus of the Sardinian city was found to be equal to 90.2% of the areas investigated by the previous research project, which is definitely remarkable compared to similar studies carried out in Messina (57.1%) and Milan (86.8%) which reported faecal levels. contamination lower and second only to Naples (98.6%) in this special ranking.

“These data certainly do us no credit – emphasizes the university professor – because they refer to excrement left on the ground by animal owners. This not only has an impact on the environment and hygiene, but also has important health implications: we have seen that a very high percentage of these faeces are contaminated with parasites. On this topic, we will check the effects of the project in a few years to see if things have changed. We will prepare a study of environmental faecal contamination and try to identify green areas visited by families with children that may be affected by this contamination. It’s easy for kids to play with dirt and then put their hands in their mouths and risk infection. One of the main actions – continues Varcasia – will teach the new generations what risks they are taking by not collecting their dogs’ needs from the ground. Children easily absorb the information given to them. Researchers engage in the difficult mission of translating into simple words and concepts the potential dangers that can arise from living with their pets. Using cartoons and comics, we will tell them a number of recommendations that they should put into practice with their puppies. They themselves, who learn easily and bring home what they have learned, will then scold their father who, for example, does not pick up their dog’s excrement from the ground.’

University of Sassari

The schools the project will involve people from urban, suburban and rural areas across the island. Three workers of the veterinary parasitology unit and around ten trainees will be active in direct training. There is also a call for two research grants, the winners of which will work full-time on the project. Among the planned public initiatives will be a public conference open to teachers and operators, as well as training seminars for veterinarians, in addition to the dissemination of content through social media and the press.

Finally, thanks to the collaboration with the Veterinary Teaching Hospitals of the Departments of Veterinary Medicine of the Universities of Sassari and Messina, all students participating in the project will have the opportunity to use free visit for your animal friends.

“Everything we distribute in Sardinia – specifies Varcasia – will be mirrored in Sicily, the content formats will also be the same for them. In addition, since this is a project of international importance, we opened cooperation with the universities of Cambridge and Costa Rica, where similar initiatives to ours will take place, so that all produced materials were created in English and Spanish. We know that prevention is essential to overcoming zoonoses – he concludes – and we focus a lot on the effectiveness of this form of education”.

University of Sassari researcher. Photo from Varcasia, Sanna, Nobile

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