Don’t Rush Me, Birds, I’ll Panic Soon Enough

In calmer times, Americans might devote more of their anxiety to the possibility of a massively fatal pandemic. These days, though, avian flu needs to get in line behind people’s more immediate worries—at least so far. In a survey conducted for the Harvard School of Public Health by research firm ICR, 57 percent of adults said they’re concerned about the potential spread of avian flu in this country. But many fewer (15 percent) described themselves as “very concerned” about it. Likewise, 4 percent said they’re very worried (with another 13 percent somewhat worried) that they or a family member may get sick from avian flu during the next 12 months. Fear will ratchet up quickly, though, if and when birds in this country start keeling over from avian flu. As you can see from the chart, many consumers said they will stop eating the sort of poultry in which the disease is showing up. And the real test will come when the U.S. begins to experience human cases of avian flu (as has already occurred in Asia). “If such cases were to occur in their state, most people said that they would reduce or avoid travel (75 percent), avoid public events (71 percent), try to get a prescription for Tamiflu or other antiviral drugs (68 percent), and stay at home and keep their children at home while the outbreak lasted (68 percent).” And get ready for face-mask chic: 52 percent said they’d wear one under such circumstances. Despite stories of Tamiflu hoarding, just 2 percent of respondents said they’ve talked to a doctor about it or other antiviral drugs. In contrast, 55 percent said they haven’t even heard of the drugs.