WASHINGTON — Most Americans have some confidence that the U.S. health care system will prevent Ebola from spreading in this country, but they’re not so sure their local hospital can safely handle a patient, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.
Amid worry here, most Americans say the U.S. also should be doing more to stop Ebola in West Africa. Health authorities have been clear: Until that epidemic ends, travelers could unknowingly carry the virus anywhere.
“It seems to me we have a crisis of two things. We have a crisis of science, and either people don’t understand it or … they don’t believe it,” said Dr. Joseph McCormick, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas School of Public Health. And, “we have a crisis in confidence in government.”
Some findings from the AP-GfK poll:
HEALTH CARE GETS MIXED REVIEWS
Nearly a quarter of Americans are very confident the U.S. health care system could prevent Ebola from spreading widely, and 40 percent are moderately confident.
But nearly half don’t think their local hospital could safely treat an Ebola case, and 31 percent are only moderately confident that it could.
After all, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at first was mistakenly sent home by a Dallas emergency room, only to return far sicker a few days later. Then, two nurses caring for him somehow became infected. The family of one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, said Wednesday doctors no longer could detect Ebola in her as of Tuesday evening.
Asked how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handled those cases, 42 percent of people disapprove and 22 percent approve.
FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE
Despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how it spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.
Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.
People who say they do understand are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.
Likewise, a third of those with more knowledge of Ebola are confident in the health system’s ability to stem an outbreak, and 27 percent think their local hospital could safely treat it. Among those who don’t understand Ebola, fewer than 1 in 5 shares either confidence.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
A whopping 93 percent of people think training of doctors and nurses at local hospitals is necessary to deal with Ebola, with nearly all of them, 78 percent, deeming it a definite need.
Nine out of 10 also think it’s necessary to tighten screening of people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone, including 69 percent who say that’s definitely needed.
Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.
More than 8 in 10 favor sending medical aid to Ebola-stricken countries and increasing government funding to develop vaccines and treatments.
SOME NEW STEPS
The CDC had issued safe-care guidelines to hospitals long before Duncan arrived last month, and it made some changes this week after the unexpected nurse infections. Now, the CDC says hospitals should use full-body garb and hoods and follow rigorous rules in removing the equipment to avoid contamination, with a site manager supervising. Possibly more important, workers should repeatedly practice the donning and doffing and prove they can do it correctly before being allowed near any future patients.
While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.
That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations, and journalists.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.