Americans Show Signs of SARS Worries: Poll
Tue Apr 15, 5:27 PM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo!


By Jesse J. Logan

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although Asia continues to bear the brunt of the deadly flu-like illness SARS, a new Gallup poll shows many Americans are becoming concerned about the outbreak.

Of more than 1,000 adults polled by telephone, more than a third (37 percent) said they were "somewhat" or "very" worried that they or their family will be exposed to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.


Slightly more -- 39 percent -- said they were "not too worried," and about one-quarter said they were "not worried at all."


Women were more likely than men to say they were "very" or "somewhat" concerned (42 percent versus 31 percent). Similarly, 30 percent of men said they were not at all concerned about SARS, compared with 19 percent of women.


"So far, the beginning of concern is what is evident in our data, but it hasn't reached significant proportions yet," Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, told Reuters Health.


In comparison, 75 percent of adults in Singapore, one of the countries hardest hit by SARS, said they were "very" or "somewhat" worried about the illness, according to a recent Gallup poll there.


In China, where SARS is believed to have originated, leaders have started a highly publicized battle to halt the spread of the disease, encouraging people to wash their hands and keep face masks handy.


So far, the illness has infected an estimated 3,300 people and killed 144 in more than 20 countries. With 13 deaths, Canada is the only country outside Asia where people have died of SARS.


While SARS is most likely to affect elderly people and people with pre-existing medical conditions, there were no significant differences between older Americans and younger Americans with regard to their likelihood to worry about the disease, according to poll results.


According to Gallup's comparison of the current poll with past ones, Americans are more concerned about SARS today than they were about anthrax in November 2001 -- during the spate of mail-based anthrax attacks that killed five people. Then, 33 percent of respondents said they were "very" or "somewhat" worried about exposure to anthrax bacteria.


"My thought is, anthrax, although extraordinary in terms of its publicity, was still seen as a spot terrorist act -- not something that was going to be spread through natural causes," Newport said.


On the other hand, West Nile virus (news - web sites) was a higher concern for Americans last year than SARS is a concern this year, according to the poll analysis.


During that time, more than half of respondents said they were "very" or "somewhat" worried that they or a family member would be exposed to West Nile, a potentially deadly virus transmitted through mosquito bites.


In the minds of Americans, Newport said, SARS is a "potential" threat, but not an immediate one.


"If in fact, they pick up their paper and turn on TV and hear about more and more cases in the U.S. and people dying in the U.S., then I think concern will go up. Absolutely," Newport said.


The poll was conducted between April 5 and 6. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.