News Interest Index: Public Aware of Key Swine Flu Facts

  • September 03, 2009

In a busy late summer news stretch, Americans continued to track news about the health care debate more closely than other major stories last week. The economy, the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and the strange case of a California woman rescued from long-time captors also vied for the public's attention.

Many also followed reports about preparations for the second wave of the swine flu this fall, but not at the interest levels seen during the first wave in early May. Still, large majorities do know several key facts about the H1N1 virus and the vaccine being developed to limit its spread. About seven-in-ten correctly answer questions about who is most likely to be infected by the virus, how serious most cases are expected to be and whether people will need a separate vaccine for the seasonal flu.

With repeated warnings in the media and from government officials about the upcoming flu season, a large majority (69%) knows that experts think most cases of the swine flu are not life-threatening. A similar proportion (67%) correctly says that the illness appears more likely to infect children and young adults than older adults. And 71% know that the government says the vaccine will need to be administered in addition to – not instead of – a separate vaccine for the usual seasonal flu.

According to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted August 28-31 among 1,006 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 30% say they followed the health care debate more closely than any other story, while smaller shares chose the economy (17%), Kennedy's death (17%) or the California case (14%) as the story they followed most closely. Kennedy's death dominated media coverage, taking up 27% of the newshole, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Read the full report Public Aware of Key Swine Flu Facts on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.