January 30, 2006

Bird Flu Not a Top Concern of Americans

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new survey shows that Americans fear car accidents, terror attacks, hurricanes and other natural disasters more than they fear bird flu.

The national survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted between January 24 and January 25 by marketing and communications research company HCD Research, based in Flemington, New Jersey, in response to recent reports that bird flu may enter the U.S.

"What was really clear from the survey was that with all the talk about bird flu, the more mundane things like hurricanes and car accidents seem to be more on people's minds than the less likely things like bird flu," Glenn R. Kessler, managing partner of HCD Research, told Reuters Health.

While more than half of respondents (59 percent) think that it is likely that bird flu will reach American soil, less than half (44 percent) are concerned that bird flu will affect them personally or their families.

Americans appear to be "really rational" when it comes to bird flu, Kessler said. "If you look at the top two fears -- car accidents (#1) and natural disasters (#2) -- these are events that actually happen; the rest are speculative," he added.

Number three on the list of fears is terrorist attacks employing a dirty or nuclear bomb, followed by bioterrorism, such as the release of smallpox or anthrax, bird flu and airline accidents.

According to the survey, Americans are split regarding their confidence in the federal government's ability to handle a bird flu outbreak in the U.S., with 36 percent indicating that they are confident, 37 percent indicating they are not confident, and the rest being undecided.

"I think now people have a lot of reticence about government response to disasters," Kessler said, perhaps owing to the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

Dr. Arthur Kover, a sociologist and consulting director at HCD Research added in a statement: "Clearly, the federal government must make its case that it is prepared to effectively handle any bird flu epidemic."