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Few Americans Expect a Widespread Ebola Outbreak Here, But Some Are Worried They or a Family Member May Become Infected, New Poll Finds

Democrats, Republicans and Independents All Support Major U.S. Role Fighting Ebola in West Africa, About Equally, to Protect Americans and to Save Lives

As the nation grapples with its first cases of Ebola transmitted in the U.S., a new Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll finds that personal worry about Ebola is reasonably high, with 45% of the public saying they are worried that they or a family member will contract the disease. But most Americans (73%) say it is more likely that Ebola will be contained to a small number of cases in the U.S., compared to two in ten (22%) who say it is more likely there will be a widespread outbreak.

The survey, which was fielded after a Liberian man was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas, and remained in the field after a nurse who helped care for him contracted the disease, finds most Americans say they trust local, state, and federal health authorities to contain the disease.

About three-quarters (73%) of the public say that if there were an Ebola case in their area, they would have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to contain Ebola and prevent its spread.  Somewhat smaller shares say they have at least a fair amount of confidence in their local hospitals (64%) and in their state or local health department (62%).

Surveys usually find differences between Democrats and Republicans on measures of confidence in government, but these differences are less pronounced in this case. Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans and independents to express at least “a fair amount” of confidence in the CDC to prevent Ebola from spreading, although roughly seven in ten Republicans and independents report confidence as well. Confidence in local hospitals and health departments is similar across Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

The public is divided about whether the U.S. government is doing enough to fight Ebola in the U.S, with almost half (48%) saying the government IS doing enough, and a similar share (44%) saying the government is NOT doing enough. Republicans (56%), women (49%), and those with less than a college degree (47%) are more likely to say that the U.S. government is NOT doing enough.

U.S. Role Fighting the Epidemic in West Africa

When asked about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, nearly two thirds of the public (65%) say the U.S. should play at least a major role in addressing it.  This includes some (16%) who says the U.S. should play the leading role. The share who says the U.S. should take at least a major role in Africa is similar among Republicans (67%), independents (63%), and Democrats (71 %).

When asked the MOST important reason for the U.S. to contribute to these efforts, the top two are to protect the health of Americans (39%) and to save lives in the African countries affected (37%). Much smaller shares say the most important reason is to help ensure U.S. national security (10%), to improve the U.S. image around the world (5%), or to help protect the U.S. economy (4%).

The main way the public thinks the U.S. should help in West Africa is by providing medical supplies (93%), followed by investing more money in Ebola research (83%), sending medical personnel to train and assist doctors (81%), and providing financial aid (73%). Fewer, but still a majority, think that the United States should send troops and military personnel to help move supplies and set up treatment facilities (54%), which the U.S is already doing.

Public’s Knowledge about Ebola Transmission

Overall, about seven in ten (69%) say they followed news about the diagnosis of the first Ebola case in the U.S. “very” or “fairly” closely, according to the Kaiser Health News Index, a monthly look at the health policy issues the public is following in news, as well as their knowledge and views about those issues. Nearly as many report closely following the outbreak in West Africa (63%, similar to 62% last month). This makes the Ebola outbreak one of the most closely followed news stories of the year, comparable to the initial interest in the missing Malaysian airline flight and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The survey finds almost all adults (97%) know that a person can become infected with Ebola through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola and showing symptoms. Majorities are also aware that a person cannot become infected through the air (66%) or by shaking hands with someone who has been exposed to Ebola but does not have symptoms (55%), although substantial shares either mistakenly believe Ebola can be transmitted in these ways or say they do not know.

However, fewer than four in ten (36%) know that a person must be showing Ebola symptoms to transmit the infection, while nearly half (48%) incorrectly believe that a person can transmit the disease before they are showing symptoms.


The latest tracking poll was designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and was conducted from October 8-14, 2014 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,503 adults ages 18 and older. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (751) and cell phone (752). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.