Many Americans Misinformed About Zika Virus
Harvard poll shows they don't know how virus spreads or how it affects health
By Dennis Thompson
TUESDAY, March 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans are woefully misinformed when it comes to understanding the risks of Zika virus, a new Harvard poll has found.
The mosquito-borne virus may spread into some parts of the southern United States during the upcoming mosquito season, public health officials predict.
But a lot of U.S. residents aren't armed with accurate information to allow them to properly prepare for Zika's arrival, said Gillian SteelFisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The results of the poll show that people often don't know how Zika spreads, or the effects it can have on human health, SteelFisher said.
"There are some important misconceptions about Zika virus," SteelFisher said. "Some of those could prevent people at risk from taking steps to protect their pregnancies. And, then there's the reverse problem, which is there are some misconceptions that could cause people to take unnecessary or inappropriate precautions."
At this time, there has been no local transmission of Zika in the United States. But, about 273 residents have acquired Zika through travel to countries where the virus is active, primarily Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.
The virus, which generally doesn't cause serious illness in adults, has been associated with thousands of cases, mostly in Brazil, of a severe birth defect call microcephaly. Babies with microcephaly have abnormally small heads, and most wind up with stunted brain development, according to the CDC.
That means that accurate information on Zika is vitally important to people in households where someone is pregnant or considering getting pregnant, SteelFisher said.
However, when SteelFisher and her colleagues surveyed people, including those in such households, they found that about 20 percent of Americans weren't aware that Zika virus can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy.
The researchers also found that:
- About one in four isn't aware of the association between Zika virus and the birth defect microcephaly.
- One in five believes, incorrectly, that there is a vaccine to protect against Zika.
- Approximately four in 10 do not realize the virus can be sexually transmitted.
- A quarter think individuals infected with Zika are "very likely" to show symptoms.