Poll: Most believe Ebola likely spread by multiple routes, including sneezing, coughing

Woman sneezing

Most think people would survive Ebola if they received immediate medical care

For immediate release: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Boston, MA – A Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)/SSRS poll released today shows most people in the U.S. (81%) believe Ebola is likely to spread from a person sick with the disease and showing symptoms. Further, 85% say someone would be likely to get Ebola if a symptomatic person sneezed or coughed on them. Despite the tragic death of an Ebola patient in Dallas, most people in the U.S. (80%) think someone in their community would likely survive the infectious disease if they received immediate medical care.

The nationally representative poll of 1,004 adults was conducted October 8-12, 2014 by researchers at HSPH and SSRS, an independent research company. The margin of error for total respondents is +/-3.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

“In this time of public concern about how likely Ebola is to spread, it’s important that hospitals can show they are well prepared for cases so we don’t lose public confidence in the ability to treat Ebola patients and handle the outbreak,” said Gillian SteelFisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) and research scientist in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management.

View the topline and charts.

Public believes Ebola is likely to spread from symptomatic patients by multiple routes
More than four out of five people (81%) said Ebola is likely to spread from a person with symptoms to others, including approximately half (49%) who say it is “very likely” and another 32% who say it is “somewhat likely” to spread. Nearly all (95%) agree that a person is likely to get Ebola if they come into contact with bodily fluids of a symptomatic person, including 86% who say it is “very likely” and 9% who say it is “somewhat likely.” Most also say a person is likely to get Ebola if they touch objects or surfaces that have been in contact with bodily fluids of a symptomatic person (88%) or if they are sneezed or coughed on by a symptomatic person (85%). These data suggest that the public currently sees Ebola as likely spread by multiple routes, including one that the World Health Organization (WHO) has said is not likely – sneezing and coughing. For statements from WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how Ebola is transmitted, click here and here.

People’s concern about an outbreak in the U.S. and their own family’s risk has increased in the last few weeks
Poll results suggesting the public sees Ebola as likely to spread from one person to another may be contributing to the fact that now more than half of adults (52%) are concerned that there will be a large outbreak of Ebola inside the U.S. within the next 12 months, which is an increase from our August poll when approximately four in ten (39%) reported the same. Further, more than a third (38%) are now concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get sick with Ebola over the next year, which is an increase from about a quarter (26%) who said this in our August poll.

Public remains optimistic about the effectiveness of medical care for Ebola
Four in five (80%) say that a person in their community would be likely to survive Ebola if they got immediate medical care, including about a third (35%) who say a person would be “very likely” to survive.

To date, the media reports that two people infected with Ebola overseas have entered the U.S. for treatment and survived. More recently, a patient in Dallas who began showing symptoms while in the U.S. and sought care at an emergency room has died. A nurse who cared for this patient has also tested positive for Ebola and she is undergoing treatment.

More than half the public believes home-based quarantine would be difficult for them
The media reports that public health officials have quarantined people exposed to Ebola, even though they have not shown symptoms, in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Ebola symptoms can take up to three weeks to show, according to the CDC. More than half of people (58%) say that it would be difficult for them to be quarantined in their home for three weeks if they were exposed to Ebola but did not know yet whether or not they were infected. This figure includes more than a quarter who say it would be “very difficult” (28%) and 30% who say “somewhat difficult.”

For more information about the disease and transmission, see:

CDC’s Questions and Answers about Ebola

WHO’s fact sheet about Ebola

WHO’s press release about Ebola

The research team consists of the following members:

Harvard School of Public Health: Gillian K. SteelFisher, Research Scientist and Deputy Director of HORP; Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and Executive Director of HORP; and Justin M. Sayde, Administrative and Research Manager.

SSRS: Eran Ben-Porath, Vice President of Public Opinion Polling; Linda Lomelino, Associate Research Director; Kasey Meehan, Project Director; and Rebecca Sevem, Associate Project Director.

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data are weighted by household size and composition, homeownership, cell phone/landline use and demographics (sex, age, race/ethnicity, population density, educational attainment, marital status, cell phone use, and census region) to reflect the true population. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

For more information:
Marge Dwyer

photo: iStockphoto.com

Harvard School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at HSPH teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health. For more information, visit www.hsph.harvard.edu.

SSRS is a full-service survey and market research firm managed by a core of dedicated professionals with advanced degrees in the social sciences. SSRS designs and implements solutions to complex strategic, tactical, public opinion, and policy issues in the U.S. and in more than 40 countries worldwide. SSRS partners with clients interested in conducting high-quality research. SSRS is renowned for its sophisticated sample designs and its experience with all modes of data collection, including those involving multimodal formats. SSRS provides the complete set of analytical, administrative and management capabilities needed for successful project execution. For more information on SSRS, visit www.ssrs.com or to contact SSRS researchers directly, contact Eran Ben-Porath (ebenporath@ssrs.com; 484-840-4333) or Melissa Herrmann (mherrmann@ssrs.com; 484-840-4404).