Brussels, 7 July 2006
Europeans are well informed about avian influenza and have confidence in the actions of EU and national authorities to tackle it, but significant gaps in knowledge remain about the risks, according to a special Eurobarometer survey on avian influenza published today by the Commission and conducted in March and April. Most respondents (between 70% and 80% according to the type of measures) correctly identified specific surveillance, control and eradication measures taken to prevent and contain avian flu outbreaks, and 70% of respondents agree that EU public authorities are guided in their actions by genuine concern about the health of European citizens. However, the survey reveals that a significant percentage of Europeans remain unsure about certain basic facts about avian flu. For example, 28% do not know that avian flu cannot be transmitted through properly cooked eggs and poultry meat. Most EU citizens replied that they had not reduced their consumption of poultry products, and those that did indicated they had done so only as a precaution.
“I am encouraged that most Europeans are well informed about the risks relating to avian flu, and broadly trust national and EU public authorities in their efforts to prevent and contain avian flu,” said European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou. “While it is natural that citizens are concerned about avian flu, they need not be unduly alarmed. This survey suggests that a significant proportion of Europeans still have misconceptions about the nature and effects of the virus, and we still have work to do to communicate efficiently in this area. As we prepare for a possible resurgence of avian influenza this autumn, our challenge is to redouble our efforts to explain to European citizens what the real risks are, and to act decisively without causing unnecessary alarm.”
Around 25,000 respondents were interviewed across Europe between 27 March and 1 May 2006. The poll covered the 25 EU Member States and the Turkish Cypriot Community, two acceding countries (Bulgaria and Romania) and two candidate countries (Croatia and Turkey). The objective of the survey was to determine citizens’ level of knowledge regarding the health risks linked to avian influenza, their level of knowledge of policies aimed at fighting the spread of the virus, and the impact of avian influenza outbreaks on their consumption of poultry products.
A good knowledge of the issue....
Respondents displayed a very good awareness that if humans touch infected birds they can be infected (74%): this shows that basic public health messages have largely got through to the general public. Respondents also displayed a good awareness that EU legislation exists which sets out measures to be taken in case of an outbreak, a very good awareness (77%) of the requirement to confine poultry indoors in risk areas, and of import restrictions (78%) from third countries affected by avian flu.
71% know that the European legislation foresees a protection perimeter of 3km and a surrounding surveillance zone of 10km around contaminated areas. 80% know that disinfection measures in high-risk areas are reinforced. 80% are aware that the European Union imposes systematic culling of all poultry on farms where a case of avian influenza has been detected. 65% know that the European Union has a committee of veterinary experts, and 58% know that the European Union pays financial compensation to farmers that are obliged to cull their poultry to prevent the virus from spreading.
....but still misconceptions to be corrected
18% of respondents think that it is not possible to catch avian influenza by touching contaminated birds. 11% are not aware that vaccination against seasonal influenza is not effective against avian influenza. 28% declare that avian flu can be transmitted through cooked poultry. 21% think that avian flu can be present in an egg or its shell after cooking. 29% declare it is not safe to eat the meat of a chicken vaccinated against avian influenza.
Changes in consumption
Respondents who declared that they had reduced their consumption of poultry
meat (18% in the EU25 on average, with large country differences) were asked to
specify why they had done this. A relative majority (48%, which represents 9% of
all EU25 citizens) were aware of a potential risk but, as they were unable to
measure it, they preferred to adopt a cautious attitude. Only 15% of
this group (3% of all EU25 citizens) were convinced that the risk of eating
poultry meat was real. On the other hand, 28% (5% of all EU25 citizens) believed
there was no real risk involved in eating poultry meat, even though they decided
to eat less. Results show that more than three quarters (76%) of the above group
(14% of all EU25 citizens) perceived this change as temporary, while 13% (3% of
all EU25 citizens) declared they had reduced their consumption of poultry meat