Survey Finds Gaps in Americans’ Knowledge About Zika

Federal funding to prevent the spread of the virus has strong support

Fewer than one in four Americans are very confident that the federal government will be able to respond to a Zika virus outbreak in the United States or abroad, according to a study from the March of Dimes and NORC at the University of Chicago. Following the failure of an emergency funding bill to pass in Congress, the survey finds growing concern about the Zika virus and strong support for federal funding into Zika research.

“This new survey shows clearly that Americans believe that Congress needs to step up and do more to combat Zika,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes. “At the same time, many Americans, particularly those in their childbearing years, still lack basic information about how Zika can be spread and how to protect themselves. A coordinated, national effort is necessary to educate individuals and families about their risk, and to fund aggressive efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat Zika as quickly as possible.”

Public knowledge of Zika has changed little since NORC last measured awareness in March, and Americans continue to have a mixed understanding of the virus. More than nine in 10 Americans correctly state that a person can be infected if bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, and eight in 10 are aware that Zika is linked to birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. Fewer know Zika can be spread through sex (58%), and Americans 18 to 40 years old still have key gaps in awareness, including a lack of knowledge about recommendations to delay pregnancy if potentially exposed to the virus.

“While most Americans have a general understanding of the Zika virus, too many people are not yet knowledgeable about the nuanced issues with the virus,” said Caitlin Oppenheimer, Senior Vice President for Public Health Research at NORC. “Our survey shows that people are getting Zika information from a variety of sources, but only some of which they trust. This information gap reinforces the need for a strong public health infrastructure with the ability to disseminate critical information to the public in a timely way.”

Key findings from the poll include:

  • 61% of Americans are moderately worried that the country will see a large number of Zika infections in the next year, up from 52% in March.
  • Three-quarters of Americans support increased federal funding into research to prevent the spread of Zika, and majorities support mosquito-control policies.
  • 77% of adults recognize the need to delay pregnancy when a woman lives in a Zika-affected area, but awareness is lower for the age group most at risk, 18-to-40-year-olds (68%).
  • Most Americans (85%) have received information about Zika from television or radio news, but few (39%) trust that source.

Americans are most trusting of Zika information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their personal doctor, and their state or local public health departments, but few have received information from these sources.

Thirteen percent of adults 18 to 40 years old say they have abstained from sex to prevent pregnancy in light of Zika, while 24% report they have used condoms or other forms of birth control to prevent sexual transmission.

Sources: March of Dimes; September 6, 2016; March of Dimes/NORC Report; September 2016.