Knowledge, perceptions and practices of health students and professionals regarding leishmaniasis in Portugal: a cross-sectional study

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Abstract

Background: Control of leishmaniasis in the Mediterranean Basin relies on the active contributions from researchers in the fields of animal, human and environmental health. The application of knowledge, perceptions and practices (KPP) questionnaires to health students and professionals in Europe could be fundamental to identify and explore gaps in KPP, highlighting the diversity of conceptions related to this disease between students and professionals active in (One) Health. The objective of this study was to characterize and compare the current knowledge, perceptions and practices regarding leishmaniasis among subgroups of students and health professionals in Portugal through the application of an online questionnaire. Methods: A cross-sectional study targeted the population of health students and professionals in Portugal, including students in medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental health, physicians, veterinarians and environmental health technicians. Potential participants were approached by email via universities and professional societies and organizations and provided with the link to access the online questionnaire. Answers to the self-administered sociodemographic and KPP questionnaire were collected between July and December 2022. Individual KPP scores were calculated by summing grades defined for each question. Logistic regression models were used to search for potential associations, and the results were expressed at estimated crude and adjusted odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals. Results: In total, 486 participants were included in this study: 254 students and 232 professionals. Overall, 75% of the participants reported having heard of both human and animal leishmaniasis, and > 80% reported hearing about the disease during their course work (although this was significantly lower among those in the field of environmental health). Around 90% of participants identified the pathogenic agent as a parasite, and an arthropod bite was identified as the main route of transmission by > 95%. Animal leishmaniasis was considered to be diagnosed in Portugal by 87% of participants and human leishmaniasis by only 69%. The main barriers pointed out by professionals to the control of leishmaniasis were: lack of knowledge in the general population, failures in the early diagnosis and treatment of diseased animals, absence/inefficacy of vector control programs and lack of knowledge in human health professionals. Median knowledge and perception scores were higher among professionals in the animal health field and higher in professionals than in students. Median practice scores were not significantly different between groups and subgroups. The multivariate analysis revealed that a longer period of study (for students) and having seen cases of leishmaniasis (for physicians) were associated with above-mentioned median knowledge score. Conclusions: Most health students and professionals are knowledgeable about the cause and transmission route of leishmaniasis. However, recognition of the disease as autochthonous in humans is less common, highlighting the importance of promoting an approach to this infection through a One-Health lens. A national structured plan to control leishmaniasis could overcome some of the barriers pointed out by professionals, namely by implementing systematic phlebotomine surveillance and integrated reporting of animal and human cases of disease. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Article number381
Number of pages27
JournalParasites and Vectors
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Keywords

  • Awareness
  • Environmental health
  • Knowledge
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Medicine
  • One Health
  • Perceptions
  • Portugal
  • Practices
  • Veterinary

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