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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard: Many U.S. Families Considering Pregnancy Don’t Know Zika Facts

Many people in U.S. households where someone is pregnant or considering getting pregnant in the next 12 months are not aware of key facts about Zika virus, according to a new poll released March 28, 2016 by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers. The nationally representative poll of 1,275 adults, including 105 who live in households where someone is pregnant or considering getting pregnant in the next 12 months, was conducted March 2-8 in cooperation with the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC), an organization serving state and local public health communications officers.

Among people in households where someone is pregnant or considering getting pregnant, the researchers found:

Such results suggest this key segment of the population does not have the latest Zika virus information presented by public health officials.

“We have a key window before the mosquito season gears up in communities within the United States mainland to correct misperceptions about Zika virus so that pregnant women and their partners may take appropriate measures to protect their families,” says Dr. Gillian SteelFisher, director of the poll and research scientist in the department of health policy and management at Harvard Chan School.

The general public also has misperceptions about Zika virus, the researchers found. Within the public as a whole, approximately four in 10 (39 percent) believe that if a woman who is not pregnant gets infected with Zika virus, it is likely (“very” and “somewhat”) to harm future pregnancies. This contrasts with the latest scientific evidence reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which suggests “Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood,” which takes about a week.

While most of the public (87 percent) understand that Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, many have other facts about transmission wrong. About one in five (22 percent) are not aware that Zika virus can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and more than a quarter (29 percent) are unaware it can be transmitted through blood transfusions. Four in 10 (40 percent) are unaware that it can be transmitted sexually. About a third (31 percent) believe, incorrectly, that Zika virus is transmitted through coughing and sneezing.

Dr. SteelFisher adds, “These misperceptions about Zika virus transmission could lead people to take unnecessary or inappropriate precautions, as we have seen in other kinds of outbreaks.”

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