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Many Americans Harbor Unfounded Fears About Ebola Outbreak: Survey

FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans know little about how Ebola is transmitted and harbor unfounded fears about the possibility of an outbreak in the United States, a new survey shows.

About four in 10 adults said they are worried that there will be a major Ebola outbreak in the United States, and one-quarter are concerned that they or an immediate family member will get sick with the deadly virus in the next year, according to the latest Harvard School of Public Health poll.

However, those opinions don't match reality, the Harvard researchers noted. Ebola is not transmitted easily, there have been no cases of Ebola transmission in the United States, and the two American aid workers treated for the disease were infected while working closely with Ebola patients in West Africa.

The Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, have since recovered and were released from Emory University Hospital Thursday.

"Many people are concerned about a large-scale outbreak of Ebola occurring in the U.S.," researcher Gillian SteelFisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, said in a university news release.

"As they report on events related to Ebola, the media and public health officials need to better inform Americans of Ebola and how it is spread," she added.

In the survey, education appeared to play some role in clearly understanding the minimal threat posed by Ebola, with 50 percent of those with didn't finish high school worried about an outbreak in the United States, compared with 36 percent of those with some college education and 24 percent of those with a college degree.

The survey also found that 37 percent of people who didn't finish high school were concerned they or a family member would get sick with Ebola, compared with 22 percent of those with some college education and 14 percent of those with a college degree.

People who didn't finish high school were also less likely to closely follow news about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (57 percent) compared to those with some college education (62 percent) or with a college degree (73 percent).

Two-thirds of the 1,000 adults who took part in the survey, conducted between Aug. 13 and Aug. 17, believe Ebola spreads easily. However, experts have said that Ebola is not transmitted through the air, but through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, according to the World Health Organization .

The survey also found that 33 percent of respondents believe there is an effective medicine to treat people who are sick with Ebola. There is no proven medicine, but treating symptoms of the disease through measures such as maintaining fluids, oxygen levels and blood pressure can improve patients' chances of survival, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Aug. 21, 2,473 people have been infected and 1,350 people have died in an Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa last March. Four countries have reported infections: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Ebola.

SOURCE: Harvard School of Public Health, news release, Aug. 21, 2014


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