Friday, February 24, 2006

Harvard poll on bird flu

A fascinating new poll (as reported by USA Today) shows that concern over bird flu has ramped up significantly in recent months. Over 1000 adults were polled by Bob Blendon's unit at the Harvard School of Public Health. A year ago an Ipsos poll showed only a third of Americans were concerned about bird flu. In this poll, done January 17 - 25, that proportion had risen to almost 60%. Events in Europe since have probably increased that number.

The internals of the poll are interesting. What is immediately evident is that if people act as they say they will in this poll there will be major economic consequences.
About 46% of respondents who eat chicken said they would stop eating it if bird flu hits the U.S. poultry industry.

If human outbreaks occurred, 75% said they would reduce or avoid travel, 71% said they would skip public events and 68% said they would stay home and keep their children at home while the outbreak lasted.
Judging from responses to this poll, however, the suspicion of widespread hoarding of the antiviral Tamflu is not true. Less than 2% had even talked to a doctor about the drug and fewer had succeeded in getting a prescription. In the event of an outbreak, 68% said they would try to get the drug. Makes sense.

As of the third week in January, only a quarter of the respondents thought US poultry would be affected and only 14% thought the disease would affect humans in the US. Again, that number might increase now that one European country after another is reporting bird infections.

Finally, there is an interesting racial difference. 70% of African Americans expressed concern compared to 54% of whites. I take this as an expression of increased vulnerability.

CDC issued a statement saying that the results show Americans are keeping informed but not panicking. I hope health officials take note and keep us informed. Because the best way to avoid panic is to have an informed public. And the best way to cause panic is to make people think you are keeping things from them.

CDC, DHS and state health departments: got that?