Poll Finds 40 Percent of American Adults Fear U.S. Ebola Outbreak

A picture taken on August 21, 2014 shows French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) staff members standing wearing protective gear at the MSF ELWA hospital in Monrovia, where patients suffering from Ebola are taken care of. The United Nations vowed on August 23 to play a "strong role" in helping Liberia and its neighbours fight a deadly outbreak of Ebola in west Africa, which it said could take months to bring it under control. Liberia has been particularly hard hit by the epidemic that has swept relentlessly across the region since March, accounting for almost half of the 1,427 deaths. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSOZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images
French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) staff members stood wearing protective gear at the MSF ELWA hospital in Monrovia, where patients suffering from Ebola are taken care of. The United Nations vowed on August 23 to play a "strong role" in helping Liberia and its neighbors fight a deadly outbreak of Ebola in west Africa, which it said could take months to bring it under control.
AFP/GETTY

A poll published today by Harvard School of Public Health and SSRS, an independent research company, shows that many in the United States are unnecessarily worried about an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus here. The major findings were that people with less education, and people who haven’t been following news of the epidemic closely, were the most likely to worry about an outbreak reaching the United States.

The poll found that four in 10—39 percent—of U.S. adults are “concerned” that there will be a large outbreak here . More than a quarter—26 percent—are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get sick with Ebola this year.

But this fear is largely misplaced, according to medical experts.

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Though this is the largest Ebola outbreak in history, Harvard doctors say there is little reason to fear that the epidemic will gain hold here. Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative Dr. Michael Van Rooyen, told The Harvard Gazette that there is “no cause for panic” in the United States. The Initiative Dr. Van Rooyen heads works to improve humanitarian response to disasters around the world with training and research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the disease is spread through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, so Dr. Van Rooyen said it is not as easily transmitted as many other diseases.

As long as people are under proper care and appropriate precautions are taken, there’s no reason to think we can’t control the transmission of the virus. So in that sense, it’s not like SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] or MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome], for example, where we would worry about an epidemic spreading in the United States.

Then why are so many people in the United States freaking out?

The Harvard poll might shed some light on that.

The poll found people with less education are more likely to be concerned about an outbreak in the United States—50 percent with less than a high school education were concerned. Thirty-six percent of those with some college education had outbreak fears. College grads were least concerned at 24 percent.

People with less education also are more concerned about someone they know getting sick with Ebola. Out of those surveyed, 37 percent of those with less than a high school education had this fear compared to 22 percent with some college education. Almost half, 14 percent, of college grads had this fear.

Those with less education also consume less news about the epidemic. Fifty-seven percent of those with less than a high school education are following the news about the outbreak in West Africa closely, compared to 62 percent of those with some college under their belt, and 73 percent of college grads surveyed.

“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,” Harvard research scientist and Director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program Gillian K. SteelFisher said in a prepared statement with the poll’s release.

As of August 22, 1,427 Ebola-related deaths have been reported. The disease is currently affecting four countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Liberia has been hit hardest, with 624 deaths.

Two medical missionaries were released from Emory Hospital last week having recovered from the deadly virus. At this time, there are no known US cases of Ebola—a disease with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent that the World Health Organization reports has infected more than 2,400 people since March 2014.