Flu? We’d cooperate

Times Staff Writer

AMERICANS profess an extraordinary willingness to cooperate with public health officials if faced with a deadly worldwide outbreak of rapidly spreading flu, called pandemic flu, says a new survey -- the first attempt to tap the public’s intentions under such still-hypothetical circumstances.

“They’d be willing to stay away from malls, from the movies, from church,” says Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, which conducted the survey of 1,697 American adults. The survey was presented Thursday in Washington, D.C., at an Institute of Medicine workshop to help public officials plan for a possible outbreak of pandemic flu.

About 94% of people said they’d stay home for seven to 10 days, and three-quarters said they’d stay home for a month. But although they’d be willing to keep their children home from school, to work from home if they could and to stay away from nonhousehold members, they had no idea how they’d be able to afford missing work for very long. A majority of employed people, 74%, said they could stay away from work for up to 10 days, but more than half said they’d have serious financial problems if they couldn’t work for a month.

“They believe they’d have to go to work, regardless of the health risk,” Blendon said. “The financial side of this would be very serious.” So would the caretaking side. A quarter of Americans say they would have no one to take care of them.