Despite headlines proclaiming the spread, as of mid-April, of AH5N1 to at least 48 countries from Eastern China to Western Africa, and the appearance of the deadly strain in animals from cats to stone martens, Americans have remained calm about the bird-flu threat. That's because no human cases have yet hit U.S. shores, explains Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and project director of the School's national poll on the subject. The survey--part of the HSPH Project on the Public and Biological Security, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--was conducted in late January with a nationally representative sample of 1,043 adults aged 18 and older. Blendon says Americans' responses regarding actions they might take in the event of a bird or human outbreak at home remain relevant today (see charts).

On May 16, HSPH Dean Barry Bloom presented a live web seminar "Bird Flu: Public Health and Pandemics."
click here
to view an archival recording.

"I don't think people's response will change until there are actual cases in Canada or the United States," says Blendon. "With SARS, for example, people got very concerned when the disease appeared in Toronto; that's when they started taking precautions.

"Americans look first at Western Europe, then Canada, then the United States. So far, there have been no human cases in Western Europe. As long as there are no human cases, people are not going to alter their behavior. Now, if bird flu in humans suddenly showed up in, say, Massachusetts or California, people would go everywhere to find an antiviral medication."

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Thea Singer is the senior writer for the Review within HSPH's Office for Resource Development.


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