Floridians took Zika seriously in 2016 but most didn't do much about it, study says


  • Photo by James Gathany of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Fewer than half of Floridians said they took preventive measures against the Zika virus in 2016, even though they were more informed than the rest of the country on the mosquito-borne infection, according to a new study.

The study, released Wednesday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, examined Floridians response to the Zika outbreak compared to the rest of the U.S. by interviewing 12,000 American adults. 

Since 2016, the state has had 1,780 cases of the Zika virus, with the majority (1,394) being travel-related cases, which means the virus was acquired outside of Florida or sexually transmitted. Only 302 cases have been classified by Florida officials as "local," which means the virus was acquired through a mosquito or from mother to baby.

The symptoms of Zika are mild and include a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, though this usually only lasts about a week. But the virus is especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies because it causes microcephaly, a birth defect in fetuses associated with neurological disorders and an underdeveloped head. Since 2016, seven babies in Florida have been born with congenital Zika syndrome, according to the state Department of Health.

"People need to understand that by protecting themselves from the virus, they’re protecting everyone from the virus," said the study's lead author Kenneth M. Winneg, in a statement. "It’s not enough to have the people who are most at risk protecting themselves."

Floridians were more than twice as likely as non-Floridians to worry about being infected in the next six months, and they were more likely than people from other states to know Zika doesn't always produce noticeable symptoms, according to the study.

Florida residents were also almost twice as likely other Americans to say that they had taken action in the prior three months to protect themselves from Zika – but 55 percent took no preventative steps.

"Many people may not have expected the symptoms to be personally harmful, and this might have reduced the response to Zika," said the study's co-author Dan Romer, in a statement. "But people need to know how important it is to get rid of standing water, put up screens, and use insect repellent – the steps necessary to combat the ability of mosquitoes to transmit the infection. You need a larger community response to prevent the spread of a new transmissible infection like Zika."

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