Flu season began last month, so of course two-thirds out of 13,000 workers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are furloughed due to the federal government shutdown. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is also feeling the impact, refusing patients who are seeking care from its hospital.
"I usually don't lose sleep despite the many threats we face, but I am losing sleep because we don't know that we will be able to find and stop things that might kill people," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director at CDC, said.
Thanks to the House Republican shutdown the CDC will not be able to track outbreaks of the flu in each state.
Without warnings to let them know of imminent health problems, many people are likely to be sick. However, flu vaccines will continue to be shipped to doctor’s offices and health departments.
"What we won't know is what's happening with flu," Dr. Frieden said. "Where is it spreading? What types of flu are spreading? Should we be using one medication or another?" he asked. "Is it in nursing homes or elsewhere? This really interferes with our ability to protect people."
He is also apprehensive about other outbreaks the CDC cannot keep track of, such as hepatitis A, salmonella, measles, and food-borne illnesses like the contaminated bags of lettuce that caused stomach bag outbreak this year. There will be no way for the CDC to find out or monitor an occurrence like Cyclospora infections.
"If there is a outbreak of food-borne illness that affects people in multiple states, we may not identify it promptly, Frieden said. “The bottom line is we don't have the people in the field, in the lab to find out what's happening and stop problems from happening.”
While Congress stays at an impasse, CDC employees can still continue to work on long-term projects, like studying after-effects of exposure to World Trade Center dust and AIDS research.