Survey Assesses Americans' Fear of Global Disease Outbreaks

EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S. science-based nonprofit organization, announces the results of a just released survey that polled Americans' knowledge surrounding global disease outbreaks.

Results showed that more than two in three Americans (68 percent) worry about global disease outbreaks.  When polled about how and why the next big outbreak will happen and what causes them, Americans (88 percent) receive a failing grade when it comes to their knowledge on the subject.  Survey findings show that less than one in five Americans (17 percent) know that the next big disease outbreak is most likely to be transmitted from wildlife, according to EcoHealth Alliance. 

"Around 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals and then can spread to humans," says Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance.  "The key to stopping global disease outbreaks is to protect wildlife and reduce our impact on their habitats.  Until citizens, scientists and governments focus on points of origin, we're at risk for a major outbreak."

While most Americans know that overpopulation and air travel contribute to global disease outbreaks, less than half know that contributing factors also include international wildlife trade (40 percent), climate change (33 percent), agricultural expansion (30 percent), deforestation (29 percent) and hunting (10 percent). 

"Changes to the environment, including deforestation, intensive agricultural practices, bushmeat hunting, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and the encroachment of human populations on formerly untouched wild habitats are all factors contributing to disease spread," says Daszak.  "Disruptions to an environment from global travel and trade can bring viruses from the other side of the globe right to our very doorstep here in the U.S. within days of an outbreak."

More than three-quarters of survey respondents (76 percent) believe that organizations and government agencies can do something to prevent disease outbreaks. 

"The fields of disease research, wildlife and environmental conservation, and public health are all inextricably linked every aspect of a failing ecosystem directly affects the health of animals and people.  We can stop the next pandemic if we are strategic about prevention and smart surveillance methods.  We can't afford complacency, because we are ultimately fighting to safeguard our very own health," says Daszak.

EcoHealth Alliance scientists were first to create a global hotspots map targeting the regions where wildlife-borne diseases are most likely to emerge based on disease data over the past 50 years.  These areas are generally densely populated with both people and animals and are the focus of many EcoHealth Alliance programs.  Yet, less than half of all Americans can correctly identify any hotspots for future global disease outbreaks including a jungle in Malaysia (46 percent), a village in Bangladesh (42 percent), or a rainforest in West Africa (44 percent).

Most Americans also overestimate the time it would take for a new highly infectious disease to reach the U.S. from origins in Asia or Africa.  Six in 10 Americans (60 percent) think it would take at least a week; scientists estimate about 48 hours. 

The online survey was conducted Oct. 28-31, 2011, by Leflein Associates, Inc., an independent market research company, as part of a national omnibus study.  A total of 1,003 surveys were completed among adults 18+.  Survey respondents represent the proportion of U.S. households with respect to age, gender and region.  This survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.