Americans’ Fears of Ebola May Be Fading, Poll Finds

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

NEW YORK , N.Y. – November 7, 2014 – Americans’ fears about Ebola seem to be waning somewhat, though many still believe the virus is a public health threat to the United States, according to a new HealthDay/Harris Poll.

The online poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 adults between Oct. 28-30, found that anxiety over Ebola appeared to be declining — even in the wake of the most recent case, involving an infected doctor in New York City.

Just under half (49 percent) of those surveyed now consider Ebola a moderate or major public health threat to Americans. That’s down from 55 percent in a similar poll conducted in early October, soon after news broke of the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. That case involved a man in Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who died of the illness on Oct. 8 after becoming infected in his home country.

The new poll also found a rise in the number of people who say they’re more worried about catching the seasonal flu than they are about contracting Ebola — up from 40 percent in the earlier poll to 47 percent in the latest one.

Americans’ Ebola-linked anxieties about travel also seem to be easing since last month, when Dallas nurse Amber Vinson — who contracted Ebola after caring for Duncan — took a flight from Cleveland to Dallas a day before she was diagnosed with the disease.

In the earlier poll, 57 percent of Americans with family or friends who frequently travel said they were at least somewhat concerned about their safety, but that number has now dropped to 43 percent in the new poll.

The fear of an Ebola epidemic in this country has, it seems, begun to erode, said Harris Poll chairman Humphrey Taylor.

And that, Taylor noted, may be partly due to the fact that no one has been infected on U.S. shores other than Vinson and Nina Pham, the other infected Dallas nurse who helped care for Duncan. All of the other seven people cared for in the United States contracted Ebola while in West Africa, site of the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

The single New York City case was diagnosed in Dr. Craig Spencer, who’d recently returned from treating Ebola patients in the West African nation of Guinea. He remains in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

Dr. Joseph McCormick, an infectious-disease expert, agreed that there’s some good news in the poll results — especially the decline in people’s travel worries.

There’s no question there have been unfounded fears about travel, said McCormick, regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville.

That’s because medical experts say Ebola can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids when patients are showing overt symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea or vomiting. It can’t be transmitted via the air, such as happens with colds or the flu.

At the same time, though, Americans may still have a distorted view of Ebola’s potential impact on the United States, McCormick said.

For example, poll respondents thought Ebola was a bigger public health threat to the United States than hepatitis C — a potentially severe and fatal liver infection that affects millions of Americans.

That surprised me, McCormick said.

Globally, the current Ebola outbreak has now sickened close to 13,600 people in West Africa and killed nearly 5,000, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three West African nations — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have borne nearly all of the burden.

In the new poll, 80 percent of Americans were aware that Ebola is at least a moderate threat elsewhere in the world. And more people claimed to be savvy about the infection, compared to the earlier survey: 56 percent felt at least somewhat knowledgeable about the disease, versus 45 percent in the previous poll.

More widespread information about Ebola might be another reason for the fading anxiety, Taylor said.

McCormick agreed. That does indicate that education could be having an effect, he said.

Still, he said, poll respondents also showed indications of unfounded fears. Almost three-quarters still believe that people with Ebola could transmit the virus before they’re actually showing symptoms.

That (poll result) is worrisome, McCormick said. It suggests there may be a basic distrust of what we’re saying about transmission.

But, he added, I’m really not sure what it’ll take to persuade people that someone without symptoms cannot transmit the virus.

According to McCormick, people concerned about Ebola should seek out credible information — whether from the CDC, university websites, or responsible media stories.

Even though the media has been blamed for fanning the flames of Ebola anxiety, McCormick said there are also plenty of balanced stories on the outbreak.

More information

For more on Ebola, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Humphrey Taylor, chairman, The Harris Poll; Joseph McCormick, M.D., regional dean, University of Texas School of Public Health, Brownsville Regional Campus; HealthDay/Harris Poll, Oct. 28-30, 2014


TABLE 1

PUBLIC ATTITUDES TO, AND CONCERNS ABOUT EBOLA – Summary Grid

In light of Ebola recently being diagnosed within the United States, how strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

Base: All adults with Applicable Responses

 

Strongly/Somewhat agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Strongly/Somewhat disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Even though international travelers are tested when leaving areas affected by Ebola, they should still be screened again upon arriving in the U.S.

%

88

62

25

12

6

6

I don’t plan on changing my daily routine due to this.

%

83

63

21

17

8

9

I am more worried about contracting the flu than I am about contracting Ebola.

%

78

47

32

22

12

10

I am concerned that individuals carrying the Ebola virus will infect others before beginning to show symptoms themselves.

%

72

41

31

28

15

13

I am worried about family and/or friends who travel frequently.

%

43

16

27

57

22

35

Due to this, I will be less likely to leave my home if I can avoid it for the time being.

%

19

7

12

81

23

58

I plan to cancel or cut back on upcoming holiday travel plans due to this.

%

23

9

13

77

20

58

I plan to cancel or cut back on upcoming business travel plans due to this.

%

25

13

12

75

20

55

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

 

TABLE 1b

PUBLIC ATTITUDES TO, AND CONCERNS ABOUT EBOLA
Strongly/Somewhat Agree Trend

In light of Ebola recently being diagnosed within the United States, how strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

Base: All adults

 

Strongly/Somewhat agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Even though international travelers are tested when leaving areas affected by Ebola, they should still be screened again upon arriving in the U.S.

%

89

88

67

62

23

25

I don’t plan on changing my daily routine due to this.

%

84

83

56

63

28

21

I am more worried about contracting the flu than I am about contracting Ebola.

%

77

78

40

47

37

32

I am concerned that individuals carrying the Ebola virus will infect others before beginning to show symptoms themselves.

%

75

72

41

41

34

31

I am worried about family and/or friends who travel frequently.

%

57

43

24

16

33

27

Due to this, I will be less likely to leave my home if I can avoid it for the time being.

%

23

19

9

7

14

12

I plan to cancel or cut back on upcoming holiday travel plans due to this.

%

24

23

11

9

13

13

I plan to cancel or cut back on upcoming business travel plans due to this.

%

26

25

12

13

14

12

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


TABLE 2a

KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT VIRUSES/DISEASES – Summary Grid

Now thinking about something different, how knowledgeable are you about each of the following?

Base: All adults

 

Very Knowledgeable/ knowledgeable (NET)

Very knowledgeable

Knowledgeable

Not very/Not at all knowledgeable (NET)

Not very knowledgeable

Not at all knowledgeable

Rabies

%

57

12

45

43

32

11

Measles

%

56

13

44

44

32

12

Ebola

%

56

11

45

44

34

11

Polio

%

46

10

37

54

37

16

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

46

8

38

54

39

15

Hepatitis C

%

43

9

34

57

41

16

West Nile Virus

%

43

7

35

57

41

17

Smallpox

%

42

7

35

58

42

16

Bubonic Plague

%

28

5

23

72

44

28

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

26

6

20

75

46

28

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

 

TABLE 2b

KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT VIRUSES/DISEASES

Very/Somewhat Knowledgeable Trend

Now thinking about something different, how knowledgeable are you about each of the following?

Base: All adults

 

Very Knowledgeable/ knowledgeable (NET)

Very knowledgeable

Knowledgeable

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Rabies

%

52

55

57

8

9

12

45

47

45

Measles

%

51

54

56

7

10

13

43

43

44

Ebola

%

38

45

56

5

8

11

33

37

45

Polio

%

41

44

46

6

8

10

35

36

37

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

41

44

46

6

8

8

36

36

38

Hepatitis C

%

36

44

43

5

9

9

31

35

34

West Nile Virus

%

40

44

43

5

6

7

35

37

35

Smallpox

%

38

43

42

5

8

7

33

35

35

Bubonic Plague

%

29

31

28

4

5

5

24

26

23

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

22

24

26

3

5

6

19

20

20

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

 

TABLE 2c

KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT VIRUSES/DISEASES

Very/Somewhat Knowledgeable – By Generation

Now thinking about something different, how knowledgeable are you about each of the following?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

%

%

%

%

%

Ebola

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

38

41

40

39

29

Post Ebola Case in Texas

45

54

44

40

38

Post Ebola Case in New York

56

60

56

53

48

 

TABLE 3a

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE U.S. – Summary Grid

How much of a threat to public health in the United States do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

 

Major/Moderate threat (NET)

Major threat

Moderate threat

Minimal/No threat (NET)

Minimal threat

No threat – no live cases in the U.S.

Not sure

Ebola

%

49

22

27

44

40

4

7

Hepatitis C

%

43

10

33

45

42

4

12

West Nile Virus

%

37

8

29

52

46

6

11

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

35

9

26

54

44

10

11

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

25

5

20

56

43

13

19

Measles

%

23

5

19

66

55

10

11

Rabies

%

22

5

17

67

59

8

11

Smallpox

%

14

5

10

73

43

30

13

Bubonic Plague

%

12

5

7

72

32

40

16

Polio

%

12

4

8

75

43

32

13

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

 

TABLE 3b

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE U.S.

Major/Moderate Threat Trend

How much of a threat to public health in the United States do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

 

Major/Moderate threat (NET)

Major threat

Moderate threat

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Ebola

%

40

55

49

13

27

22

27

28

27

Hepatitis C

%

48

49

43

10

13

10

37

36

33

West Nile Virus

%

47

45

37

9

11

8

38

34

29

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

37

39

35

8

9

9

29

30

26

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

28

28

25

6

8

5

21

20

20

Measles

%

28

30

23

4

6

5

23

24

19

Rabies

%

25

28

22

5

6

5

21

22

17

Smallpox

%

16

21

14

4

7

5

12

14

10

Bubonic Plague

%

12

17

12

5

8

5

6

9

7

Polio

%

11

17

12

3

6

4

8

11

8

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


TABLE 3c

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE U.S.

Major/Moderate Threat – By Generation

How much of a threat to public health in the United States do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

%

%

%

%

%

Ebola

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

40

39

37

42

41

Post Ebola Case in Texas

55

55

56

55

52

Post Ebola Case in New York

49

53

48

48

41

 

TABLE 3d

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE U.S.

Major/Moderate Threat – By Region

How much of a threat to public health in the United States do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

Total

Region

Northeast

South

Midwest

West

%

%

%

%

%

Ebola

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

40

38

42

39

40

Post Ebola Case in Texas

55

56

57

55

51

Post Ebola Case in New York

49

49

53

44

46

 

TABLE 4a

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD – Summary Grid

How much of a threat to public health anywhere in the world do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

 

Major/Moderate threat (NET)

Major threat

Moderate threat

Minimal/No threat (NET)

Minimal threat

No threat – no live cases in the world

Not sure

Ebola

%

80

54

26

11

9

1

9

West Nile Virus

%

60

18

42

24

23

2

15

Hepatitis C

%

57

18

38

26

25

1

17

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

54

16

37

29

25

4

18

Measles

%

50

12

37

34

31

3

16

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

49

14

35

29

26

3

22

Smallpox

%

44

14

30

39

31

8

18

Polio

%

40

11

29

42

35

7

18

Rabies

%

40

11

29

43

39

4

17

Bubonic Plague

%

34

11

22

45

32

12

22

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

 

TABLE 4b

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD

Major/Moderate Threat Trend

How much of a threat to public health anywhere in the world do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

 

Major/Moderate threat (NET)

Major threat

Moderate threat

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Post Ebola Case in New York

Ebola

%

80

84

80

51

60

54

29

24

26

West Nile Virus

%

65

65

60

24

25

18

41

41

42

Hepatitis C

%

62

63

57

21

23

18

41

40

38

H1N1/Swine Flu

%

64

63

54

21

22

16

43

41

37

Measles

%

56

53

50

15

17

12

41

37

37

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome/SARS

%

57

55

49

20

19

14

37

36

35

Smallpox

%

50

49

44

16

18

14

33

31

30

Polio

%

46

47

40

14

16

11

32

30

29

Rabies

%

47

47

40

13

14

11

34

33

29

Bubonic Plague

%

38

41

34

14

18

11

23

23

22

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


TABLE 4c

THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD

Major/Moderate Threat – By Generation

How much of a threat to public health anywhere in the world do you believe each of the following represent?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

%

%

%

%

%

Ebola

Pre Ebola Case in U.S.

80

72

78

85

89

Post Ebola Case in Texas

84

79

83

88

91

Post Ebola Case in New York

80

75

80

84

85

 

TABLE 5

AWARENESS OF DIAGNOSED EBOLA CASE IN THE UNITED STATES

By Generation

Ebola has now been officially diagnosed within the United States. Before taking this survey, were you aware of this?

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Millennials (18-37)

Gen Xers (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

%

%

%

%

%

Post Ebola Case in Texas

Yes

92

85

95

96

95

No

8

15

5

4

5

Post Ebola Case in New York

Yes

96

95

95

97

97

No

4

5

5

3

3

 

TABLE 6

USE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Summary

How often, if ever, do you use public transportation (e.g., bus, subway, train)?

Base: All adults

 

Total

%

Ever (Net)

51

Once A Year Or More (Sub-Net)

34

Several Times A Years Or More (Sub-Sub-Net)

28

Daily

5

Several times a week

5

At least ones a week

3

Several times a month

3

At least once a month

3

Several times a year

8

At least once a year

7

Less often than once a year

17

I never take public transportation

49

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

 

TABLE 7

EBOLA IN U.S. EFFECT ON USE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

By Gender

As previously mentioned, Ebola has now been officially diagnosed within the United States. What impact, if any, will this have on your use of public transportation for the time being?

Base: Adults who use public transportation several times a year or more

 

Total

Gender

Male

Female

%

%

%

Any Impact (Net)

35

43

23

I will use public transportation slightly less.

11

15

5

I will use public transportation somewhat less.

9

9

10

I will use public transportation much less.

8

8

7

I will stop using public transportation altogether.

7

11

1

It will have no impact on my use of public transportation.

65

57

77

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


Methodology

This HealthDay/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between October 28 and 30, 2014 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.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.