July 23, 2009

Confidence in Obama Lifts U.S. Image Around the World

Chapter 10. Swine Flu

Publics across the globe are aware of the swine flu pandemic, and in most of the countries polled, majorities of those who are aware are worried about exposure to it. Anxiety is generally concentrated in developing countries, particularly in Asia where other recent flu pandemics have begun. Perhaps surprisingly, concern is not especially widespread in Mexico, where swine flu cases were first reported.

Widespread Awareness

No less than nine-in-ten in 19 of 25 countries polled say that they have heard of the disease called swine flu. Nearly all (98%) Americans surveyed are familiar with the swine flu, as are 93% in Mexico. Awareness is slightly less widespread in the African countries surveyed as well as in India – 75% of Kenyans, 69% of Indians and 61% of Nigerians are aware of the disease.

The only country in which a minority is aware of swine flu is Pakistan. In fact, only 16% of Pakistanis indicate that they are aware of this disease while 77% say they are not.

Of the 15 countries asked about bird flu in 2006 and swine flu this year, levels of awareness are similar in 12 countries. Pakistan is a notable exception; in 2006, 82% of Pakistanis were aware of the bird flu, considerably more than currently know about swine flu (16%). In addition, while awareness of the bird flu in 2006 was nearly universal in India (99%) and Nigeria (98%), fewer in both countries are informed about swine flu (India 69%, Nigeria 61%).

Considerable Concern

Concern about possible exposure is widespread among people who are aware of the swine flu. Majorities of those who are aware of swine flu in 14 of the 24 publics surveyed – excluding Pakistan, where awareness is very low – are very or somewhat worried about being exposed to swine flu. Worry is greatest in developing countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East – regions far from the original outbreak in Mexico.

Worries are particularly widespread in Asia, home to other recent deadly flu outbreaks such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and bird flu. More than three-in-four are worried in Indonesia (78%) and India (77%), and majorities in both countries are very worried (Indonesia 56%, India 54%).

Concern over swine flu is also common in South Korea (67%) and Japan (59%). Although China was hit hard by the SARS and bird flu outbreaks, concern about being exposed to swine flu is less common in China (44%) than among other Asian publics.

As for Russia, the Middle East and Africa, fear about exposure to swine flu is also quite prevalent. Most Russians (76%), Nigerians (74%), Jordanians (70%) and Egyptians (69%) express concern about being exposed. And many in Russia (46%), Nigeria (45%) and Jordan (47%) are very worried. Just half in Lebanon (52%) and the Palestinian territories (50%) express fear. Israelis are less apprehensive than others in the region; only 43% express concern about exposure to swine flu.

Although swine flu has killed more people in Mexico than any other country, Mexicans do not stand out in their degree of concern about swine flu – 63% are very or somewhat worried. Fear is about equally widespread in Brazil (65%) and Argentina (61%).

Publics in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada are the least concerned about swine flu in the survey. Canadians are the least anxious with only 23% saying that they are somewhat or very worried about being exposed to swine flu. Slightly more are worried in Germany (27%), Britain (28%) and the U.S. (29%) while a third (34%) is worried in France. Not only is worry relatively uncommon in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada, it is also not very intense; 11% or fewer in each of these Western publics are deeply anxious about exposure.

A Gender Gap in Worries

In 16 of the 25 countries polled, women who are aware of the swine flu are more worried than men about being exposed to it. For instance, South Korean (76%), Japanese (68%) and Turkish (55%) women are more likely to express concern about being exposed to the flu than their male counterparts (South Korea 58%, Japan 51%, Turkey 39%).

More modest gender gaps are found throughout the Middle Eastern, African and European countries surveyed as well as Canada and the U.S. In the United States, 32% of women and 25% of men who are aware of the swine flu express concern about being exposed to the virus.

Cite this publication: “Confidence in Obama Lifts U.S. Image Around the World.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 23, 2009) http://www.pewglobal.org/2009/07/23/confidence-in-obama-lifts-us-image-around-the-world/, accessed on July 22, 2014.