5 things to know about Zika misperceptions in US

A recent nationally representative poll conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston in conjunction with the National Public Health Information Coalition highlights common misperceptions about Zika in the United States.

For the survey, 1,275 adults were polled, 105 of whom live in homes where someone is pregnant or considering getting pregnant. Here are five things to know about Zika misperceptions in the U.S.

1. Homes where someone is pregnant: In households where someone is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, 23 percent of adults were unaware of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly — a neurologically debilitating birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Twenty percent believed there is a Zika vaccine, which in reality is likely years away from coming to fruition. One in four believed those infected with Zika are "very likely" to show symptoms — the inverse is true.

2. Future pregnancies: In contrast to the latest scientific evidence available, 39 percent of all adults surveyed believed that a woman infected with the Zika virus who is not pregnant is likely to have Zika-related difficulties during pregnancy in the future.

3. Virus transmission: While a vast majority of Americans polled (87 percent) understood that Zika is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, many were misinformed about other transmission facts. Twenty-two percent were not aware that a mother can pass the virus to her baby while pregnant, 29 percent were unaware that Zika can be transmitted through blood transfusions and 31 percent erroneously believed the virus can be passed through coughing and sneezing. Forty percent were unaware that the virus is sexually transmittable.

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4. Symptoms and complications: Only 39 percent of those polled understood that those infected with Zika will most likely be asymptomatic. Seventy-one percent believed an infected person would likely to display symptoms. Two-thirds thought fever to be common if someone does show symptoms, but other symptoms were much less frequently identified (headache 49 percent; joint pain 41 percent; rash 34 percent; conjunctivitis 18 percent). Thirty-five percent wrongly believed that coughing and sneezing to be common Zika symptoms. Seventy-one percent of those polled reported no knowledge of a connection between Zika and the paralysis inciting condition Guillain-Barré.

5. Correcting misperceptions: Gillian SteelFisher, MD, director of the poll and research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard Chan School, said, "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."

More articles on the Zika virus: 
California's first sexually transmitted Zika case confirmed
New evidence suggests Zika could be hidden in many parts of the world: 3 things to know 
Infographic: Where in the US have Zika cases been reported? [March 25 update]

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