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Many Americans do not know about Ebola and how it is Transmitted

Update Date: Aug 22, 2014 12:33 PM EDT

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has received a lot of news coverage and attention. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current situation a global health emergency. Despite the focus that has been placed on this virus, a new poll revealed that many Americans do not know what Ebola is and how the virus gets transmitted.

The poll, which was carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the independent research company, SSRS, reached a group of nationally representative adults. The 1,025 participants were polled from August 13 to 17, 2014. People were asked how likely an Ebola outbreak could occur within the U.S., how likely people's relative can contract the disease, how the disease transmits between people, and what the treatment options are for the infection.

The researchers found that education played a huge role in what people believed. 50 percent of people with a high school education, 36 percent of people with some college education and 24 percent of people with college or more education were concerned that an Ebola outbreak could occur in the United States. So far, there has not been a single case of Ebola confirmed within the U.S. The two Ebola patients that were treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA had been infected in West Africa. They were brought back to the U.S. for treatment and have fully recovered.

37 percent of high school educated people, 32 percent of people with some college education and 14 percent of people with a college degree or more feared that a family member could get infected with Ebola. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that people with less education were less likely to be following the news on Ebola.

Overall, 68 percent of the people thought that Ebola could spread easily. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the WHO and other experts have stated that Ebola is not an airborne illness and can only be transmitted via direct contact with the fluids of an infected person or animal. 33 percent of the people also believed that there is "an effective medicine to treat people who have gotten sick with Ebola." Ebola cannot be treated with any of the antiviral treatments that are currently available.

"Many people are concerned about a large scale outbreak of Ebola occurring in the U.S.," said Gillian SteelFisher, PhD, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program and research scientist in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management. "As they report on events related to Ebola, the media and public health officials need to better inform Americans of Ebola and how it is spread."

As of August 21, 2014, the Ebola outbreak, which is occurring in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, has infected over 2,400 people and killed 1,350 of them. The current mortality rate is at 60 percent.

The news release on the HSPH/SSRS poll can be accessed here.

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