Press Releases

2001 Releases

Survey Shows Anthrax Incidents Have Impact on People?s Worries and Behaviors in Three Cities Where Bioterrorism Reported

For immediate release:  December 17, 2001 

BOSTON, MA – The latest study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation polling attitudes toward bioterrorism finds that the lives of a large share of people have been affected directly or indirectly in three metropolitan areas where cases of anthrax have occurred. About one in five residents of the Washington, DC (21%) and Trenton/Princeton, NJ (19%) areas report that they, a friend, or a family member has been exposed to or tested for anthrax, or had their workplace closed because of anthrax or suspected anthrax. Nine percent in the Boca Raton, FL, area have been affected, compared with 4% of adults nationwide. (Figure 1)

Among the "affected" group in the Washington metropolitan area, 43% are very or somewhat worried that they could contract anthrax from opening their mail at work or at home (compared with 30% of those not affected and 24% of all adults nationally). Almost half (47%) of the "affected" are currently taking precautions opening their mail, including washing their hands after opening mail, wearing gloves, or completely avoiding opening their mail (compared with 34% of those not affected and 32% of all adults nationally). (Figure 2).

One-fourth (26%) of the "affected" DC-area residents think they or an immediate family member is likely to contract anthrax during the next 12 months (compared with 15% of those not affected and 9% of all adults nationally). Twelve percent of the "affected" say that they or someone in their household has gotten a prescription for or purchased antibiotics because of reports of bioterrorism (compared with 3% of those not affected and 4% of all adults nationally). 

"Most Americans remain relatively untouched by the anthrax incidents that have occurred," says Robert J. Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "But people who have experienced these incidents either directly or indirectly through friends or family members have been left worried about the future."

Half (51%) of the "affected" group in Trenton/Princeton are worried that they could contract anthrax from opening their mail (compared with 37% of those not affected). More than half (58%) of "affected" Trenton/Princeton-area residents are currently taking precautions opening their mail. A similar proportion (54%) of the unaffected group are taking such precautions, probably because so many Trenton/Princeton-area residents have had their mail delivery interrupted due to fears of anthrax contamination. Fifty-eight percent of Trenton/Princeton-area residents report interruptions of mail delivery for some period of time, compared 19% in the Washington area, 11% in the Boca Raton, and 5% of adults nationwide.

One-third (35%) of the "affected" Trenton/Princeton-area residents think they or an immediate family member is likely to contract anthrax during the next 12 months (compared with 18% of those not affected). Ten percent of the "affected" say that they or someone in their household has gotten a prescription for or purchased antibiotics because of reports of bioterrorism (compared with 2% of those not affected). 

Circumstances in the Washington area, including both the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and the recent anthrax incidents, seem to have made those affected by the latter more wary of other possible attacks. More than one-third (36%) of "affected" Washington-area residents think they or an immediate family member is likely to get injured by some other type of terrorist act besides anthrax or smallpox during the next 12 months (compared with 20% of those not affected and 18% of adults nationally).

"Affected" people in the Washington and Trenton/Princeton areas are no more likely than other residents of those areas to say that they or someone in their household has taken such precautions against bioterrorism as avoiding public events or maintaining emergency supplies of food, water, or clothing.

The "affected" group in the Boca Raton-area sample was too small for analysis.

Nationally, the vast majority of Americans continue to believe that they or members of their immediate families are unlikely to contract anthrax or smallpox during the next 12 months. More Americans think they or a family member is likely to get injured by some other terrorist act (18%) than by either anthrax (9%) or smallpox (8%). 

During the past month, there has been no change in the precautions Americans are taking in response to the bioterrorist threat. (The survey was taken after the incident of anthrax in Connecticut). (Figure 3)

Residents of New York City, the other major area where cases of anthrax have been reported, were not interviewed because the events of September 11 make it difficult to isolate the effects of anthrax incidents.

The complete report may be viewed at:

DOWNLOAD COMPLETE REPORT

Figures are available by fax upon request. 

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman 
Office of Communications 
Harvard School of Public Health 
677 Huntington Avenue 
Boston, MA 02115 
Phone: 617-432-4752 
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu 


Methodology
This study, the second in a series by The Harvard School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Survey Project on Americans' Response to Biological Terrorism, was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes John M. Benson and Catherine M. DesRoches of the Harvard School of Public Health and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between November 29 and December 3, 2001. The study consisted of four surveys of adults aged 18 and over, one national (with a random sample of 1,009 adults), and one in each of the following metropolitan areas: Washington, DC (516), Trenton/Princeton, NJ (509), Boca Raton, FL (504). The metropolitan areas follow U.S. Census definitions.

The margin of sampling error for the national survey is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For each of the local surveys, it is approximately plus or minus 5 percentage points. For results based on subsets of respondents, the margin of error is higher.

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 800-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.