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New survey on American attitudes toward Zika virus finds limited awareness or concern

A recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that three-quarters of Americans who have heard at least a little about the Zika virus are aware that the virus is linked to birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. However, the survey found that most Americans are unclear about the availability of tests to diagnose Zika and whether or not preventative vaccines and effective medicines exist to treat it.

In February 2016, The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both took steps to alert the public about the danger of the Zika virus. As of March 30, the CDC has reported 312 cases of the Zika virus in the United States and heightened its efforts in response to Zika and the cases of microcephaly and other neurological disorders associated with the virus.

“The Zika virus has the potential to become a critical problem in the United States. This survey shows that there is more work to be done to raise awareness among the public,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “When it comes to responding to this public health threat, the results do show that the public is supportive of policy approaches designed to prevent the spread of Zika in the United States.”

Key Findings Include:

  • Four in 10 Americans have heard only a little or nothing at all about the Zika virus.
  • Ninety percent of those who have heard of Zika know that it can be spread through the bite of a mosquito carrying the virus; however, only 57 percent are aware that Zika can be spread through sexual intercourse with an infected person.
  • Despite the ongoing Zika outbreak in Brazil, only a quarter of Americans believe that American athletes should withdraw from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“As the Zika virus unfolds, it will be critically important to communicate effective prevention strategies to Americans,” said Caitlin Oppenheimer, senior vice president and director of public health at NORC at the University of Chicago. “This survey and other measures will help build understanding of Zika and identify areas requiring additional communication efforts.”