Survey Reveals Concerns Over Ebola

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Oct. 31, 2014 -- When it comes to Ebola, most Americans say they're not worried about catching the disease, but they are concerned about the possibility of health care workers who have treated sick patients spreading the virus here.

Most also support quarantines for people arriving in the U.S. from affected countries, according to the WebMD/Medscape Ebola Survey.

Nearly 80% of people who answered the online survey said they were concerned about the infection risk posed by doctors and nurses who have cared for Ebola patients, while 57% said they thought it was reasonable to quarantine travelers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia until they are certain to be free of the disease.

"The Ebola risk to the general public is very low, and most people seem to be aware of that," says Michael W. Smith, MD, WebMD chief medical editor. But, he said, Ebola cases in several health care workers who have returned to the U.S. have raised public concerns. The majority of doctors who answered the survey -- 56% -- also support quarantines for people who have recently been to West Africa.

Little Hysteria Over Ebola

At the same time, however, 70% of Americans said they were not worried about catching Ebola. Only 8% of people claim they are "very worried" about their own infection risk.

And while a majority of people felt that they had enough information to protect themselves from the virus, 45% said they didn't feel educated enough about the illness to stay safe.

For doctors and nurses though, it was a different story. About half, 49%, said they were worried about becoming infected at work. But a majority -- 63% -- also felt that their practice, clinic, or hospital was prepared to treat a patient with Ebola symptoms.

They weren't as confident when it comes to the nation's public health system. "I was surprised to see that 55% of health care professionals feel the country isn't prepared to respond to an Ebola outbreak," Smith says. "A large-scale infection outbreak isn't something most health professionals have ever dealt with. Even though it's highly unlikely, I'm confident that should the need ever arise, our public health system would spring into action to do everything possible to stop it in its tracks. Thankfully, we're not there."

The WebMD survey included responses from 1,280 adults around the U.S. Nearly 60% who answered the questions were parents. About half were over age 55. Three-fourths of participants were women, and about half reported having a college degree or higher level of education.

Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they felt that the U.S. government has not done enough to help countries affected by Ebola.

Travel Fears

International travel is a concern for many, at least for now.

Nearly 90% said they would be reluctant to fly to any of the affected countries, and 76% said they'd steer clear of the entire African continent, despite the fact that the disease is only affecting a handful of countries there.

Half said they wouldn't want to travel outside the U.S. at all right now.

Survey takers were also largely supportive of measures to screen international travelers.

  • 84% said it's reasonable to screen arriving passengers for symptoms
  • 69% were in favor of stopping flights from affected areas
  • 57% thought it would be OK to allow flights from affected areas, but supported quarantines for visitors until they could be proven to be free of the disease.

When it comes to public health threats, nearly the same number of people -- 38% vs. 37% -- thought Ebola was as big a threat as the flu. Twenty-eight percent ranked enterovirus D68 as a high risk to public health, while 20% saw MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in that same light.

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SOURCES: WebMD Consumer Survey on the Ebola VirusThe WebMD Consumer Survey on the Ebola virus was completed by 1,280 randomly served WebMD site visitors (61% desktop, 39% mobile) from October 20-26, 2014. The sample represents the WebMD.com online population with a margin of error of +/- 2.8% at a 95% confidence level, using a point estimate (a statistic) of 50%, given a binomial distribution.Medscape Healthcare Practitioner Survey on the Ebola VirusThe Healthcare Practitioner Survey on the Ebola virus was completed by 1,058 clinicians who are active on Medscape. The survey was fielded October 18-22, 2014, via email invitation to include physicians (n=657), physician assistants (n=82), nurse practitioners (n=182), and registered nurses (n=139). Specialty practice areas relevant to the survey topic were targeted, with most respondents coming from emergency medicine (n=233), family medicine n=(258), internal medicine (n=183), and pediatric medicine (n=156). The remaining respondents (n=228) were distributed among the full range of specialties. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 3.06%, at a 95% confidence level, using a point estimate (a statistic) of 50%, given a binomial distribution.

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