Floridians took Zika virus seriously -- but less than 50% tried to protect themselves

Study shows Florida was more knowledgeable about Zika

ORLANDO, Fla.A new report says Florida residents took more preventative action against the Zika virus than non-Florida residents. But don’t celebrate just yet, Floridians -- the same study shows less than half of the state’s population actually did anything to protect themselves from the virus.

EurekAlert!, a global news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published the results of research conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that concluded Floridians were nearly twice as likely as non-Floridians to say they took steps to protect themselves from Zika in the prior three months. They also proved more knowledgeable about Zika -- 84 percent knew Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes compared to 82 percent of non-Floridians, and 66 percent knew the infection can be spread by sexual transmission compared to 61 percent of non-Florida residents.

The study was based on nationally representative surveys by APPC of more than 12,000 U.S. adults taken Aug. 8 to Oct. 3, 2016.

However, 55 percent of Floridians took no preventive action to protect themselves from Zika. The reasoning for this could be that many people don’t expect the symptoms of the virus to be personally harmful, says Dan Romer, APPC's research director. Researchers suggest more outreach and community-level education efforts are needed to inform the public about the threat of Zika and promote preventative action.

"People need to understand that by protecting themselves from the virus, they're protecting everyone from the virus," said lead author Kenneth M. Winneg, the managing director of survey research at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. "It's not enough to have the people who are most at risk protecting themselves. You need the entire community involved."

The Florida Department of Health launched a comprehensive Zika website at the height of the outbreak to inform Floridians about the threat of the virus. To protect against mosquitoes, the department encourages the public to implement the "Drain and Cover" method, which includes draining standing water and covering your skin with clothing and mosquito repellent. 

"During the height of the Zika outbreak in 2016, the department used a variety of digital, print, TV, and radio advertisements to inform Floridian’s on how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the threat of Zika, reaching an estimated 31.9 million people," said Devin Galetta, Interim Communications Director for the Florida Department of Health. "Although there are currently no areas of active, ongoing transmission of Zika in Florida, the department encourages all Floridians to remain vigilant to protect ourselves and neighbors from mosquito bites in and around our homes."

The Zika virus, which is carried by Aedes mosquitoes, spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015. Symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, headache and joint pain, but sometimes there are no signs of infection. In 2016, the Florida Department of Health identified the first locally transmitted cases of Zika infection in the United States in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The CDC placed a temporary travel warning on the region, which was later lifted.

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to Zika because it can be transmitted to an unborn fetus, causing physical and cognitive disabilities like microcephaly, a birth defect that can cause seizures and physical abnormalities. While reported cases of Zika have dropped exponentially within the past few years, sporadic cases are possible.