Risk perception has an important influence on wildlife management and is particularly relevant to issues that present health risks, such as those associated with wildlife disease management. Knowledge of risk perceptions is useful to wildlife health professionals in developing communication messages that enhance public understanding of wildlife disease risks and that aim to increase public support for disease management. To promote knowledge of public understanding of disease risks in the context of wildlife disease management, we used a self-administered questionnaire mailed to a stratified random sample (n = 901) across the continental United States to accomplish three objectives: 1) assess zoonotic disease risk perceptions; 2) identify sociodemographic and social psychologic factors underlying these risk perceptions; and 3) examine the relationship between risk perception and agreement with wildlife disease management practices. Diseases we assessed in the surveys were rabies, plague, and West Nile virus. Risk perception, as measured by an index consisting of severity, susceptibility, and dread, was greatest for rabies and West Nile virus disease (x¯ = 2.62 and 2.59, respectively, on a scale of 1 to 4 and least for plague (x¯ = 2.39). The four most important variables associated with disease risk perception were gender, education, prior exposure to the disease, and concern for health effects. We found that stronger risk perception was associated with greater agreement with wildlife disease management. We found particular concern for the vulnerability of wildlife to zoonotic disease and for protection of wildlife health, indicating that stakeholders may be receptive to messages emphasizing the potential harm to wildlife from disease and to messages promoting One Health (i.e., those that emphasize the interdependence of human, domestic animal, wildlife, and ecosystem health).
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Vol. 49 • No. 4