Shutdown could affect sickness probes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The partial government shutdown has resulted in thousands of workers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention being furloughed.

Now some doctors say it could have an affect on how quickly sicknesses spread, especially the flu.

"There are an endless number of infectious disease threats that we often say are an airplane ride away from us," said Dr. Gregory Poland, of the Mayo Clinic. "Who is going to monitor that over this time period?"

Poland is one of the experts sounding the alarm about the effects of the government furloughs on the CDC. Because of the government stalemate, nearly 9,000 employees are off the job, and disease detectives that look for trends and fast-spreading illnesses are no longer keeping an eye on things.

"Globally and nationally, and they are the only entity in the USA that tracks these things nationally," Poland said. "Now you have weeks, maybe two weeks. Who knows how long?"

Dr. Tom Frieden, the center's director, showed his frustrations in a tweet, writing, "CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can't tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn't shut down. We are less safe."

Dr. John Trainer is a family practice doctor with Baptist Primary Care and is considered to be on the front lines with illnesses. He said the data the CDC usually provides is important.

"Somewhere there is an inbox, a fax machine that is gathering reports from around the nation," Trainer said. "There is not an appropriate scientist to synthesize that data, share it appropriately. We are missing an opportunity."

Trainer said the CDC furlough means that people at his office, as well as those at the local and state health departments, now have to work harder to pick up the slack.

"My contacts with county health aren't seeing epidemic levels of flu here, but it could be a missed opportunity to stop something in the bud," Trainer said.