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Americans Expect Serious Swine Flu Outbreak

Yet Most Aren’t Worried About Their Own Risk, Survey Shows
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By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News

July 17, 2009 -- A majority of Americans believe there will be a serious outbreak of H1N1 swine flu this fall or winter, according to a new survey. However, less than half of those surveyed said they were concerned about their own safety or that of their family members.

The survey, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, was done via phone June 22-28. There were 1,823 survey participants, all 18 or older.

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About six in 10 participants  -- 59% -- said they believed it was very or somewhat likely that there would be widespread cases of swine flu with people getting very sick this fall or winter. Parents were more likely to predict such an outbreak, with 65% of parents saying it was very or somewhat likely, compared to 56% of people without children.

Despite this belief, 61% of respondents said they were not concerned about their own risk or the risk to their family members.

Swine Flu School Closings Worry Parents

Survey results also suggest that widespread school closings and work absences -- a likely outcome if a serious outbreak does occur -- could be financially devastating to many American families, especially minority families.

Fifty-one percent of parents with children attending either day care or school said that if those schools or day cares closed for two-week periods, someone in the home would have to miss work. Forty-three percent predicted that they would lose pay and have money problems due to such absences, and 26% said that the person staying home would likely lose a job or business. Hispanics and African-Americans were more likely to predict that they would lose income and/or jobs because of such absences.

And it is just not just parents who would be affected. If people had to stay home for seven to 10 days because they were sick or because they had to care for a family member who was sick, 44%  said they would be likely to lose pay or income and have money problems. Twenty-five percent reported that they would likely lose their job or business.

More People Are Washing Their Hands

The good news? Public awareness campaigns about hand washing have been successful. Roughly two-thirds of people reported that they or someone in their household has washed hands or used sanitizer more frequently since the outbreak.

"Hand washing was a major focus of public health education during the recent outbreak," Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release. "The results of this survey show that these efforts helped people protect themselves."

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