In a study released recently in the Pan-American Journal of Public Health, researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington found that U.S. adults, especially young men, lack awareness of how Zika virus is transmitted, and how at risk they are for the virus. More than 90 percent of those surveyed reported either no risk or low risk of Zika in the next six months. This comes even after more than 5,000 cases of Zika have been reported in the continental U.S.
“The Zika virus remains a key concern for public health officials in affected countries, including the U.S.,” said Lucia Guerra-Reyes, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. “Our results suggest that it’s necessary to increase public knowledge of transmission of the virus.”
The study analyzed Zika related items from the 2016 wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative probability sample of U.S. adults. The study primarily focused on participants’ knowledge of Zika virus transmission and their perceived risk of infection. They found that most men and women—91 percent and 94 percent, respectively—identified the mosquito bite transmission route. Far fewer identified sexual transmission and mother-to-child transmission. When asked about their perceived risk of infection, this research shows that those living in southern states identify their risk as higher than those in other parts of the country.
“Awareness of Zika is fairly high—85 percent in those we surveyed. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into knowledge of transmission or perceived risk,” Guerra-Reyes said. “The gap in knowledge in how the Zika virus is transmitted is highly problematic when considering the already existing low levels of risk perception, the high prevalence of asymptomatic Zika cases, and relatively inconsistent condom use.”
Based on the results of her research, Guerra-Reyes recommends the development of programs and messages focused on Zika prevention targeted specifically at young males. She said that messages should emphasize the importance of correct and consistent condom use, even in the absence of Zika symptoms.