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Government Shutdown May Impact CDC Response To Flu Outbreak

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Important response to the flu epidemic is threatened by the impending government shutdown. Heath agencies are preparing for a contingency plan in worst-case scenarios.

If the Congress and White House fail to reach a consensus on a new federal budget by midnight Friday, the government will shut down all its nonessential offices and programs. The shutdown will affect an estimate of 850,000 government employees.

This includes half of the Department of Health and Human Services' offices and workforce, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors in real time the flu outbreak that has already caused 9,000 hospitalizations across the country. The worst possible effect of a shutdown would be a freeze of the CDC's Influenza Surveillance Program.

Shutdown Of Services

With the flu outbreak in full swing in 49 states, a shutdown's effects of the CDC will make the flu season even more difficult with fewer workforce to monitor all cases. Under a government shutdown, more than half or 63 percent of CDC staff would be furloughed or placed in emergency leave.

The last time that the CDC was affected by a government shutdown was in 2013, when it was closed for 16 days. Former CDC director Tom Frieden said it was an anxiety-provoking time, as he felt that he couldn't do his job of protecting Americans.

"The government shutdown was like a scene from a science fiction movie — empty labs and offices at CDC. Shutdowns are not safe," Frieden posted on Twitter.

Contingency Measures

In a recent development, health officials announced that the CDC's flu surveillance program would continue despite the shutdown. Under the contingency plan, 37 percent or more than 13,000 CDC staff would be retained.

"CDC specifically will be continuing their ongoing influenza surveillance. They will be collecting data reported by states, hospitals, others, and they'll be reporting out critical information needed for state and local health authorities to provide, track, prevent and treat the disease," an official said as quoted in a Reuters report.

The agency would continue to collect important data on flu activity, hospitalization, pediatric deaths, and efficacy of flu vaccines.

The CDC compiles weekly reports on the flu epidemic that notes the locations of possible deaths and pediatric flu deaths. Surveillance data also helps in preparing supplies and staff for possible patients.

Monitoring on a weekly basis is important at this crucial time of severe flu season that has already resulted to 30 pediatric deaths.

Other agencies that are threatened by the shutdown include the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for drug approvals and food inspections, and the National Institutes of Health, which facilitates enrollment of patients in clinical trials.

Flu Cases Increasing Sharply

In its latest Flu Activity and Surveillance Report from Jan. 6 to 13, CDC noted that influenza activity again increased, and the states experiencing high flu activity increased from 26 to 32, now including New York and Puerto Rico.

The hospitalization rate is also high. CDC said the flu activity is likely to continue for several more weeks.

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