Zika’s first mosquito-borne transmission in the United States has not sparked alarm for the vast majority of Americans, who do not fear infection by the disease, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say they are “not too” or “not at all” worried about being infected with Zika or an immediate family member becoming infected, which is hardly changed from 67 percent in June. Just over one-third of the public, 35 percent, is at least somewhat worried, though only 12 percent say they are “very worried” about infection.
The poll finds continued confidence in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to an outbreak of Zika, also unchanged in the past two months.
Worries about Zika infections continue to fall below the highest levels of public concern about the Ebola virus in 2014 and the swine flu in 2009. In the latter case, a high of 52 percent said they worried about themselves or a family member being infected.
The lack of broad or increasing concern over Zika comes shortly after the first local transmission of the disease in late July, after which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for the Miami neighborhood where the infection occurred.
The CDC reports that 479 pregnant women have been infected by Zika, almost all of whom were exposed while in one of the more than 50 countries where the virus is spreading. Zika can cause severe brain damage in fetuses, including microcephaly, a condition in which the head is abnormally small and the brain fails to develop properly. The disease can spread silently because it causes no or minor symptoms in most people who are infected.
The Post-ABC poll finds slightly higher concern about Zika infections among respondents who live in Florida or Texas, where 43 percent are very or somewhat worried compared with 33 percent of those living in other states. However, a Suffolk University poll released last week found 76 percent of Floridians were very or somewhat concerned about Zika spreading throughout the country in the coming months. Only in Florida has the disease been found to be spreading locally by mosquitoes, while every state has seen at least one Zika infection connected to international travel.
The public’s muted concern about Zika suggests lawmakers may not face intense public pressure to approve President Barack Obama’s requested funding for Zika prevention, which Congress failed to pass before the summer recess. The lack of urgency was seen in a June Post-ABC poll, which found that while a 73 percent majority supported Obama’s proposed $2 billion spending on Zika prevention, less than half supported immediate approval if Obama and Republicans could not agree on other spending cuts.
Indeed, many Americans did not notice Congress’s delay. A STAT-Harvard survey released Aug. 5 found most Americans are unaware that Congress did not approve new funding for dealing with Zika before recessing for the summer. Some 44 percent correctly said Congress did not pass funding, while 49 percent volunteered they did not know and 6 percent incorrectly thought Congress passed legislation funding Zika response efforts.
Mirroring levels of concern, nearly 7 in 10 Americans in the Post-ABC poll say they are “very” or “somewhat” confident in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to a Zika outbreak. Confidence is similar to 66 percent in June, as well as to confidence reported during previous Ebola and Swine Flu pandemics.
The poll finds concern about Zika has not increased since last month among younger women, despite the virus’s particularly negative consequences for those who are pregnant. Just 35 percent of women younger than 40 say they are very or somewhat worried, similar to 36 percent in June and little different from the level of concern among the broader public. The share of younger women who are “very worried” about an infection does peak at 19 percent, compared with 12 percent among the public overall.
The survey also shows Zika concerns range along racial and income lines. Just 3 in 10 white Americans are concerned about themselves or a family member becoming infected by the Zika virus, compared with 44 percent non-white Americans, including 43 percent of African Americans. And while 42 percent of people with household incomes under $50,000 are worried about an infection in their family, that drops to 33 percent among those with middle incomes and 23 percent of those with incomes of at least $100,000.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Aug. 1 to 4 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults reached on cell and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Emily Guskin, Scott Clement