About half of those people surveyed by the Harvard School of Public Health said if someone in their family did get swine flu it likely would be a life-threatening condition. And roughly 90 percent said they would be willing to avoid shopping malls, movie theaters, public transportation and worship services for more than two weeks if health officials told them to.
Many parents were worried about outbreak-caused closures of schools or day care centers, with 43 percent saying they would lose pay or have money problems if they had to stay home a week or more because they were sick or had to care for someone.
About 25 percent said they probably would lose their job or business, which was especially concerning to black and Hispanic parents. More than 40 percent in those racial groups feared losing a job or business, compared with 14 percent of whites.
The telephone survey of more than 1,800 U.S. adults was done in late June. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for the major findings.
The 60 percent of people who said they were not worried they will get sick from the new flu echoed what was found in a similar survey in May.
Harvard receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do surveys on public health concerns, but the CDC does not dictate how the surveys are designed.
The number of U.S. swine flu cases has surpassed 37,000, and deaths have risen to 211, according to the most recent numbers from the CDC. The pandemic was first identified in California in April. Since then more than 94,000 cases have been reported in more than 100 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Scientists are investigating this flu strain and how it is different from seasonal flu, but government officials are concerned it may mutate into a more dangerous form and have been preparing for the possibility of a new wave of illnesses in the fall or winter.
In the survey, most people said they had not seen swine flu cases in their communities, but were taking seriously the predictions of experts. "They're convinced by what they've heard that cases are going to be very serious," said Robert Blendon, the Harvard researcher who led the polling.