The majority of Americans know the basic facts about Zika virus, but misperceptions abound about how the virus spreads and causes disease.
That’s the take-home message of a national poll released Tuesday, which found that 87 percent of the US public knows that Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes, but a good-sized minority is unaware or misinformed about how else the virus is contracted.
The Zika virus has been spreading rapidly in the Americas, but so far there has been no mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States. Experts think that could change come summer when mosquitoes become more active, and the poll found some positives signs.
Two-thirds of the public take regular precautions in the summer to escape mosquitoes. For specific countermeasures, 56 percent said they wear repellant, and 55 percent remove standing water around their homes, which deprives mosquitoes of breeding grounds near people.
For mosquito control at a larger scale, 81 percent of responders said they would approve of ground spraying in their cities or towns if Zika cases appeared, and 66 percent said they would support spraying from the air under those circumstances.
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted the poll earlier this month in cooperation with the National Public Health Information Coalition, an organization of health communications professionals. (STAT regularly partners with the Harvard school on polls but was not involved with this particular survey.)
Overall, the poll captured that sizable portions of the public are not sure or are wrong about how Zika spreads and manifests in people. Forty percent did not know the virus can be sexually transmitted, and 31 percent thought — incorrectly — that the virus can migrate through coughing and sneezing.
Almost 4 in 10 people believe a woman who contracts the virus may be at higher risk for having a baby with birth defects in the future. Researchers are still studying how long the virus can stay harbored in the body, but so far, the evidence indicates that Zika clears the blood in a week or so, and after that a woman will not face an elevated possibility of defects in subsequent pregnancies.
The poll surveyed 1,275 adults by phone, including 105 people who live in homes where someone is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant in the next year. The overall results are accurate to within 3.23 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.