Federal Health Agencies: During Shutdown, No Food Poisoning, Flu Surveillance

government_shutdown_flu_servicesThe government shutdown means that a great deal of work has been put on hold as tens of thousands of government employees have been furloughed. This also means that some critical surveillance will not occur, including over food poisoning, measles, and influenza outbreaks, to name a few.

If a flu outbreak occurs early, with most public health agency work ceased, the ramifications could be significant, as could a serious food poisoning outbreak, notes NBC News.

More than half of the staff who work at agencies overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—about 40,000 employees—are expected to be impacted with mandatory furlough, according to NBC News citing HHS’ contingency staffing plans. Included in this group are about 8,700 of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 13,000 workers and 6,600 of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 15,000 employees.

During the shutdown, there will be no tracking of Salmonella outbreaks and no one will be monitoring measles epidemics. Also, noted NBC News, worksites will not be inspected; therefore, food and drugs will not be checked for safety, according to what some staff still working at the federal regulator told NBC News.

“The vast majority of CDC’s activities will shut down completely,” said Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman. “Our public health response will be slowed,” she added, NBC News reported. During the shutdown, multi-state foodborne illness outbreak investigations will not be conducted; however, local health departments will remain at work and very basic emergency operations will continue, but at a downgraded level.

For example, at least one private contractor with the CDC is no longer working on rotaviruses research because the CDC supervisor who runs her project was furloughed, according to the Huffington Post.

The FDA will continue to announce high-risk food and drug recalls and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be conducting meat inspections, NBC News wrote.

According to Reynolds, not only surveillance for the flu season, but emerging infectious diseases—H7N9 and MERS, for example—will be “weakened.” Also, 14,000 of 19,000 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) staff is on furlough. Remaining staff will be caring for current patients; however, no new patients will be admitted and research—including clinical trials—has come to a halt, according to NBC News.

The shutdown, noted The Huffington Post, has also forced thousands of National Guard members on furlough and has shut down some rescue missions, including of a missing Boise, Idaho woman. About 85,000 meals in Arkansas may not be fed to children and 13 Head Start programs were shut down, which served 320 children.

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