Floridians Worried About Zika, But They Didn't Necessarily Protect Themselves

Jun 15, 2018

Most Floridians knew about the Zika virus and how it spread—but that wasn't enough to get them to protect themselves, according to a new study in the journal Risk Analysis.

As the Zika virus emerged in the United States two summers ago, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 12,000 Americans. They asked people what they knew about Zika, and how they were reacting to it.

Not surprisingly, Floridians tended to be more informed about Zika than folks in the rest of the country. Florida, after all, saw the most cases of the virus, both from people who were infected locally and while traveling outside the state.

Even though more than 8 in 10 Floridians reported knowing about the virus and that it could spread through mosquito, less than half did anything to stop it. Draining water, checking window screens, all that stuff the health department and CDC were asking? Most Floridians weren’t doing it.

“Not enough people seemed to get the message that they had to take some responsibility on their own,” says Dan Romer, the research director at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and an author on the study.

According to Romer, that is a hard message to communicate. The Zika virus can be spread by mosquito bite and sexual contact. In the most severe cases, Zika can cause neurological problems, including brain damage in fetuses of infected pregnant women. But most people won’t even have symptoms. It’s a big leap to motivate someone who likely wouldn’t feel the worst of Zika—say, a young single guy not planning to have kids any time soon—to drain standing water to protect a hypothetical stranger’s fetus.

“So in the future, if there were another outbreak—or an outbreak of a similar kind of infection—what this is telling us is that public health officials have to do a better job of informing the community about ways they can do things, even if they're not personally directly at risk,” says Romer.

You can find more about the study here.