Perceptions of Zika Virus Risk in Germany in 2016

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Background Risks associated with Zika virus (ZIKV) transmission in the Americas have been discussed widely in the media as several European athletes declined to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Since risk perceptions of individuals in unaffected areas are unknown, we assessed the risk perceptions of ZIKV and related behaviour in Lower Saxony, Germany, with a specific focus on pregnant women and their partners. Methods In May 2016, we surveyed 1,037 participants aged 15-69 years of an online panel (addressing hygiene and preventive behaviour regarding infections) in Lower Saxony with respect to their risk perceptions related to ZIKV. We additionally included 26 expectant parents who were recruited at antenatal preparation courses in Braunschweig and Hannover between May and July 2016. Results Six hundred fifty-five (69.1%) of the panel participants had ever heard about ZIKV. About 8% of the study participants reported to be concerned about ZIKV. Pregnant women had the highest odds of reporting concern about ZIKV (OR: 6.24; 95% CI: 2.94-13.26, reference: non-pregnant women). The vast majority of participants (79%) would travel to the Olympics if they won a free trip; this proportion was lower in currently pregnant women (46%). Risk perceptions towards ZIKV were considerably lower than those towards Ebola during the 2014 epidemic. Conclusion This study showed that fear of contracting ZIKV is not a major deterrent for travelling to high-risk areas. Pregnant women are appropriately concerned about the risk of ZIKV. Studies modelling the further spread of ZIKV need to account for these results.