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Americans Would Ignore Public Health Advice in a Bioterror Event

February 22, 2010

Yeah, I know, no real surprise there. But now we know for sure, thanks to the folks at the Harvard School of Public Health (who’ve been doing a bang-up job on surveys for CDC since H1N1 first showed up).

Late last week, Harvard released results from a survey conducted December 9 – 28, wherein they interviewed 2,625 respondents from across the country, including people from Washington, D.C., New York City and Trenton, NJ (because those places had experienced an anthrax attack in the past). The survey tried to ascertain how the US public would react after another weaponized anthrax attack.

According to the results, 89% of Americans would follow the advice of the public health establishment and go out and get antibiotic prophylaxis (Yay SNS!). Implicit in the instructions that one should seek out and procure antibiotic prophylaxis is the idea that one should take the medication as soon as possible. And that’s where the problem is. Thirty-nine percent (39%!) of those who would seek out prophylaxis would hold onto it until it was confirmed they were exposed. That percentage was nearly the same for parents in the situation of giving the medication to their children (38% would wait).

Beyond that, there is good news and bad news for public health preparedness planners. The good news is that over folks who said they would be “very likely” to pick up antibiotics, 94% said they still go, even if they knew they would have to wait for two hours.

The bad news is that the public has real worries about how well public health departments can run this type of response. Of those least who said they were unlikely, or only “somewhat” likely (total of the two, 34%), to seek out antibiotics, the things that dissuaded them most included worries about the ability to control crowds (45%), the threat of being exposed while waiting in line (41%), worry that there would not be enough antibiotics for them (40%) and worries about the safety of the antibiotics (37%). Sounds like we’ve got a lot of work to do.

The survey and the chart can be found here.

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