On Monday, Feb 1, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency due to the Zika virus – leading to the rare international crisis where Americans are paying attention. As a refresher, the Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites and since the first case was reported in Brazil last May, it has spread throughout South America. For most people Zika’s symptoms are mild, but in pregnant women the virus can cause severe birth defects (particularly microcephaly in the fetus).
When the Reuters/Ipsos poll first measured awareness of the Zika virus in the United States on Wednesday, January 27th, only four in ten Americans (42%) were aware of the Zika virus. Since then the CDC has issued travel warnings and media has expanded coverage of the outbreak. Over that period awareness has rapidly increased. On Monday, February 1st, that number of people who have heard of Zika has climbed almost 20 percentage points to nearly six in ten Americans (59%).
Not only is the awareness of the Zika virus increasing, Americans are actively seeking additional information about the virus now and the interest shows no signs of slowing down. On Feb 1st, Google searches for “Zika virus” returned 6.3 million hits. The same search on January 1st returned only 50,000 hits.