As part of a needs analysis preceding the development of an e-learning platform on infection prevention, European intensive care unit (ICU) nurses were subjected to a knowledge test on evidence-based guidelines for preventing ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). A validated multiple-choice questionnaire was distributed to 22 European countries between October 2006 and March 2007. Demographics included nationality, gender, ICU experience, number of ICU beds and acquisition of a specialised degree in intensive care. We collected 3329 questionnaires (response rate 69.1%). The average score was 45.1%. Fifty-five percent of respondents knew that the oral route is recommended for intubation; 35% knew that ventilator circuits should be changed for each new patient; 38% knew that heat and moisture exchangers were the recommended humidifier type, but only 21% knew that these should be changed once weekly; closed suctioning systems were recommended by 46%, and 18% knew that these must be changed for each new patient only; 51% and 57%, respectively, recognised that subglottic drainage and kinetic beds reduce VAP incidence. Most (85%) knew that semi-recumbent positioning prevents VAP. Professional seniority and number of ICU beds were shown to be independently associated with better test scores. Further research may determine whether low scores are related to a lack of knowledge, deficiencies in training, differences in what is regarded as good practice, and/or a lack of consistent policy. (C) 2008 The Hospital Infection Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.