Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and RTI International will collaborate to determine whether and how Zika virus is affecting plans for U.S. travelers.
Co-principal investigators of the effort are Jim Herrington, executive director of the Gillings Global Gateway® and UNC professor of the practice of health behavior, and Linda Squiers, senior health communication scientist for RTI.
Lola Stamm, associate professor of epidemiology, and Sylvia Becker-Dreps, associate professor of family medicine and adjunct assistant professor in epidemiology at the Gillings School, are UNC co-investigators.
“Warm weather means spring break and vacation travel to areas where people have become infected by getting bitten by a mosquito infected with the Zika virus,” Squiers said. “We want to understand whether U.S. travelers are knowledgeable about how Zika is transmitted and prevented and whether the risk of Zika is affecting their travel plans.”
This month, researchers will survey 1,200 people in the United States who were planning to or are traveling to an area affected by Zika to assess their knowledge and perceived risk of the virus, and to learn how their perceptions may have affected where and when they travel. The nationally representative survey will also assess travelers’ beliefs about the effectiveness of different Zika prevention methods and their intent to adopt them.
Survey participants are asked a series of questions, including where they heard or read about ways to prevent Zika, which prevention methods they think are the most effective, their perceived risk of contracting Zika, and how these perceptions affected their travel plans.
“This infection can be transmitted sexually and by mosquitoes — a unique characteristic of Zika virus,” Herrington said. “Knowing and understanding the public’s perceptions of risk and protective behaviors regarding Zika virus is therefore critical.”
Between Jan. 1, 2015, and March 1, 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 5,000 cases of Zika in the United States. Almost 4,800 of these cases resulted from U.S. travelers going to areas with active Zika virus transmission. In U.S. territories, there have been more than 38,000 cases of Zika stemming from the bite of an infected mosquito.