The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has ceased monitoring flu outbreaks and unfamiliar strains of it since the government shutdown.
The CDC website has a disclaimer that because of the drop in federal funding, “the information on this website may not be up to date, the transactions submitted via the website may not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted.”
About two-thirds of CDC’s staff has been forced to take a leave of absence without pay implying that activities to conduct surveillance of the flu season and other diseases were halted.
Usually, CDC collects data from regional health centers and compiles them into a weekly report called “Flu View”.
“Sad to say, they won’t be able to do it any longer, thus, preventing health care providers and consumers in attaining information on any outbreaks or new types of illnesses, “ said CDC spokesperson Barbara Reynolds to Time Free Press.
She added, “We don’t yet know what to expect at the start of this season. It may build slow, or it could come at us very hard, like we’ve seen in several seasons recently. And we don’t know who it will most impact.”
Margaret Zylstra, epidemiology manager for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, clarified that even if the offices of the CDC are closed, it will not affect local flu surveillance. “We collect flulike data from local providers here. And we have already received federal flu-related vaccine, so we’re in good shape as far as that goes,” she added.
However, losing track of flu epidemics and strains may prevent health departments from being able to carry out vaccine programs all over the country as outbreaks come out and shift.
Reynolds said, “We’re fortunate to have local and state departments. But there’s a limit to what they have, and no one to support them at the national level.”
The halt of a number of operations could lead to a greater impact in the next flu season. Another is that the agency won’t be able to track and test specific strains, which may mean that new strains that may possibly appear this year will be unidentified and incorporated into the next vaccines.
Reynolds said, “Our staff is very committed to protecting the health of Americans. But at a certain point we’re going to fall behind.”