Illness Outbreaks Prompt Recall of Some Furloughed Federal Workers

usda_recalls_workersThree government agencies responsible for ensuring food and drug safety and curbing disease have recalled furloughed workers to investigate alarming disease outbreaks.

On Tuesday, the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brought back 10 of about 9,000 furloughed employees to monitor foodborne disease outbreaks, including a cluster of salmonella cases tied to tainted chicken from three processing facilities in California, ABC News reports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recalled a furloughed public affairs worker to put out a health alert on the outbreak.

Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News, said this outbreak “is one of those outbreaks they’re worried about,” with a higher number of people than expected hospitalized, and strains of the organism resistant to antibiotics. Reuters reports that Salmonella Heidelberg traced to Foster Farms chicken products has caused 278 illnesses, most of them in California.

To address another serious illness cluster, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called back technical experts back in to help investigate an outbreak of nonviral hepatitis in Hawaii linked to the dietary supplement OxyElite Pro, an agency spokesman told ABC News. More than two dozen people have been hospitalized around the state; two have required liver transplants and one person has died.

Besser said the government shutdown is having a big effect on public health. Besser, who was acting director for the CDC during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, said it is not enough for the CDC to be able to call people back to assist in an emergency. The CDC’s job is to be looking for outbreaks “in the first place and they’re not able to do that,” he commented on an ABC News blog. “We are all at risk until they get back up to staff.”





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