Cambridge, Mass. (CBS ATLANTA) — Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) U.S. adults are concerned that there will be a large outbreak of the Ebola virus, and more than one-quarter (26 percent) are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get sick with Ebola in the next year.

A Harvard School of Public Health poll released on Aug. 21 found that many Americans lack basic knowledge about Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and many point to a series of misconceptions about the spreading and treatment of the virus.

One-third of the 1,025 U.S. adults polled said they believe there is “an effective medicine to treat people who have gotten sick with Ebola.” But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, there is no proven anti-viral medicine. There are, however, medicines for treating symptoms of depleted oxygen levels and blood pressure to help people survive.

The Harvard/SSRS poll found that people with less education are more likely to be concerned about an outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.

Half of people with less than a high school education are concerned, while less than one-quarter (24 percent) of people with at least a college degree expressed the same concern. Nearly four-in-ten (37 percent) Americans with less than a high school degree believes they or someone in their family will get sick with Ebola – compared to just 14 percent of those with a college degree.

Overall, 26 percent of Americans said they believe they or someone in their family will get sick with Ebola in the course of the next year.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of those in the Harvard poll believe that Ebola spreads either “very easily” or “somewhat easily” from those afflicted with the virus. But the CDC and WHO note that Ebola is not an airborne illness and must be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids, infected animals or infected objects.

A Rasmussen Reports survey from earlier this month found that 58 percent of Americans are concerned about the threat of Ebola while 46 percent think it is at least somewhat likely the virus will get into the general U.S. population.

Forty-seven percent said they believe the spread into the U.S. general population is unlikely and 55 percent say they are confident that the U.S. public health system can contain Ebola should it spread into the general population.

As of Thursday, media reports show that two people infected with Ebola overseas were treated in the U.S.

Many Americans are weary of press coverage of Ebola, with nearly half (48 percent) of Americans in the Rasmussen poll saying the media tends to make the outbreak of such diseases sound worse than the reality. But two-thirds of Americans say they are following the media reports on Ebola closely.

“Many people are concerned about a large scale outbreak of Ebola occurring in the U.S.,” said Gillian Steel Fisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program and research scientist in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management. “As they report on events related to Ebola, the media and public health officials need to better inform Americans of Ebola and how it is spread.”

Benjamin Fearnow


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