Most Americans Aware of Zika Threat, But Gaps in Knowledge Remain

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News — Americans are becoming more informed about the Zika virus, but there are still some large gaps in their knowledge of the mosquito-borne illness that can cause devastating birth defects, a new HealthDay/Harris Poll finds.

Three out of four adults know Zika is mainly transmitted by mosquito bites. And, more than four out of five are aware that pregnant women are most at risk from the virus, the poll results show.

Most adults also know the main precautions to be taken to protect against contracting Zika from a mosquito bite — good news, given that mosquito season is now under way.

But there’s a significant lack of understanding regarding the other ways Zika can be transmitted, the poll found.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman emeritus of The Harris Poll, said public health officials are, by and large, doing a good job of informing the public about Zika.

“While there is a fair amount of confusion and misinformation about the Zika virus, most Americans are aware of how it is transmitted, what the main risks are, and of steps that can be taken to protect themselves and the public,” Taylor said.

There have yet to be any cases of mosquito-transmitted Zika infections in the continental United States. So far, the epidemic has been confined to Latin America and the Caribbean.

But, U.S. public health officials expect at least small outbreaks in areas laden with the breeds of mosquitoes that can spread the virus. Gulf Coast states — such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas — have the highest risk of an outbreak, officials say.

An estimated 80 percent of people infected with Zika do not develop any symptoms. Those who do most often suffer from mild symptoms that include fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes.

Zika virus is worrisome, however, because it’s the first mosquito-borne illness known to cause microcephaly and other brain-related birth defects if an expectant mother becomes infected. Microcephaly results in babies born with abnormally small heads and brains. Nearly 5,000 babies have been born with microcephaly in Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.

The new poll found that three out of four Americans are very or somewhat familiar with the Zika virus, and 84 percent are aware that pregnant women are at high risk.

In addition, 76 percent of adults understand that Zika can be transmitted through a mosquito bite.

However, only 48 percent understand that a fetus can contract Zika from an infected mother, and only 57 percent are aware that Zika can cause brain damage in the womb.

A majority of adults also aren’t aware that Zika can be spread by sexual contact. Only 45 percent understand that having sex with an infected person can spread the virus. And, only 51 percent cited “barrier methods” such as condom use as a way to prevent Zika infection.

“I find it worrisome that a minority of people understand that Zika can be sexually transmitted,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Public Health Committee. “Women can get Zika from their male sexual partners. We need to continue to improve our messaging around the risk of sexual transmission, because this is such a devastating disease for a developing fetus.”

On the upside, large majorities of Americans understand the best ways to prevent Zika infection via mosquito: Getting rid of pools of standing water (73 percent); using insect repellent (73 percent); wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible (71 percent); avoiding travel to infected areas (68 percent); and using insecticide (68 percent).

Half of adults living in the South understand that their region is most at risk for Zika outbreaks. Fifty percent of southerners said it’s “very” or “somewhat” likely that Zika will infect people in their area over the next 12 months, compared to 44 percent of people nationwide.

Duchin expects that Americans’ knowledge of Zika will improve once outbreaks of the virus begin in the country.

“I do believe the public pays attention when they feel they are at risk,” said Duchin, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

“Without having Zika on the mainland currently, we have a bit of a communication challenge. Once we have local transmission in the United States, which is likely, people will perk up their ears a little bit more,” added Duchin, who’s also health officer for Public Health-Seattle & King County.

The HealthDay/Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States, May 17-19 among 2,026 adults 18 and older. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted, where necessary, to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. “Propensity-score weighting” was also used to adjust for respondents’ likelihood to be online.

More information

To learn more about Zika virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This Q&A will tell you what you need to know about Zika.

 

 

TABLE 1

FAMILIARITY WITH ZIKA VIRUS

“How familiar are you with recent reports of the Zika virus, which is affecting people in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

%

Familiar (NET)

74

Very familiar

19

Somewhat familiar

55

Not familiar (NET)

26

Not that familiar

15

Not at all familiar

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2

LIKELIHOOD ZIKA VIRUS WILL AFFECT PEOPLE IN YOUR AREA

By Region

“How likely do you think it is that the Zika virus will infect people in the area where you live over the next few years?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika Virus

Region

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

%

%

Likely (NET)

44

51

47

39

50

36

Very likely

11

15

10

10

16

7

Somewhat likely

33

36

37

29

34

30

Not likely (NET)

56

49

53

61

50

64

Not that likely

40

36

38

44

36

43

Not at all likely

16

13

15

17

13

21

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding 


TABLE 3

WAYS PEOPLE CAN CATCH THE ZIKA VIRUS

“Which of the following do you believe are ways people can catch the Zika virus?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika virus

%

%

Being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus

76

86

In utero

48

58

Having sex with someone with the virus

45

55

Blood transfusion from someone with the virus

37

44

Eating or drinking infected food or drink

10

9

Breathing air exhaled by someone with the virus

7

7

None of these

1

*

Not at all sure

17

7

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 4

WHO IS AT HIGH RISK OF SUFFERING SERIOUS PROBLEMS

Percent saying “yes”

“Which groups of people, if any, are at high risk of suffering serious problems if they are infected by the Zika virus?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika virus

%

%

Pregnant women

84

92

Young children

56

59

Elderly people

53

55

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 


TABLE 5

WHAT HEALTH PROBLEMS CAN BE CAUSED BY ZIKA VIRUS

Grid Summary

“Do you know if any of the following health problems can be caused by the Zika virus?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika virus

%

%

Brain damage in babies born to infected pregnant women

57

69

Very high fever

31

37

Death

23

26

Headaches

22

27

Vomiting

20

23

Rash

20

24

Joint pain

18

22

Diarrhea

17

19

Sore throat

11

13

Congestion

7

8

Other

2

3

Not at all sure

30

18

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 


TABLE 6A

WAYS TO PROTECT PEOPLE FROM THE ZIKA VIRUS

Summary of “very effective”

 “Which of the following are effective ways to protect people from getting the Zika virus?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika virus

%

%

Getting rid of pools of standing water

47

55

Using insect repellant

38

46

Restricting travel to the continental United States

37

43

Wearing long sleeves and covering as much of your skin as possible

34

41

Spraying with insecticide

33

40

Using barrier methods during sex (e.g., condoms, dental dams)

29

34

Using a vaccine

21

24

Wearing a medical face mask in public places

8

9

Drinking plenty of fluids

7

8

Exercising regularly

5

6

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 6B

WAYS TO PROTECT PEOPLE FROM THE ZIKA VIRUS

Summary of “very effective + somewhat effective (NET)”

 “Which of the following are effective ways to protect people from getting the Zika virus?”

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Total

Very/Somewhat familiar with Zika virus

%

%

Getting rid of pools of standing water

73

83

Using insect repellant

73

83

Wearing long sleeves and covering as much of your skin as possible

71

82

Restricting travel to the continental United States

68

77

Spraying with insecticide

68

78

Using barrier methods during sex (e.g., condoms, dental dams)

51

59

Using a vaccine

39

42

Drinking plenty of fluids

24

25

Wearing a medical face mask in public places

23

25

Exercising regularly

16

17

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


Methodology

This HealthDay/Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between May 17 and 19, 2016 among 2,026 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this HealthDay/Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

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