INTRODUCTION: Exposure to biological agents is the most common occupational risk for nursing staff. This study verified changes in attitudes and knowledge occurred in the nursing students after the first year of degree. METHODS: The survey was conducted in academic year 2006/07 among the students of the Professional Nursing Course at University of Ferrara (Italy) using a structured questionnaire. Students were 85 at the beginning and 80 at the end of the courses. RESULTS: The rate of subjects using gloves for intramuscular injections and fingertip puncture was unsatisfactory. A high percentage of students performed recap of needles. The use of gloves in case of washing of surgical instruments was high. The compliance in the use of gloves in handling test tubes remained low. Only 2/3 of the students washes their hands coming in ward. Incorrect attitudes have been observed in changing or wearing gloves. The students considered vaccination against hepatitis-B necessary, vaccination against flu unnecessary. A high percentage of students had not performed any prophylaxis for tuberculosis. DISCUSSION: Students intend the use of gloves mainly to perform self-protection. The concept of self-protection is contradicted by the large percentage of students that recap used needles. A significant percentage of students have not yet gained the critical thinking necessary to consider the importance of universal precautions as a means not only of self-protection but also of prevention of hospital infections. CONCLUSIONS: Students consider the basic standard measures for the control of infectious diseases only like self-protection and not to prevent hospital infections
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