Harvard Public Health Review
Spring 2006

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HSPH Update: Avian Flu

Facemasks and Antivirals

A poll asks: What will Americans do if AH5N1 hits home?

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 blow).

"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."

Would you take any of these actions if a human case avian flu were reported in your state?

Stock up on things that might help with flu systems 85%

Talk with your doctor about avian flu 84%

Reduce or avoid travel 75%

Avoid public events 71%

Stay at home and keep your children home while the outbreak lasts 68%

Try to get a prescription for Tamiflu or other antiviral drugs 68%

Wear a facemask 52%

If there were a case of avian flu among chicken or other poultry in the U.S., would you do any of the following?

Stop eating that kind of chicken/poultry 46%

Reduce the amount of chicken you eat 25%

Continue to eat chicken or other poultry 27%

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

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