Shutdown slows safety efforts
WASHINGTON — The government shutdown has slowed or halted federal efforts to protect Americans’ health and safety, from probes into the cause of transportation and workplace accidents to tracking the flu.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recalled some of its furloughed staff to deal with the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened more than 270 people and was announced by the Agriculture Department late Monday. Before Tuesday, the CDC had only a handful of scientists working on outbreak detection, severely hampering its ability to track potentially deadly illnesses.
With federal workers on leave, the states have had to pick up much of the slack. In the case of food safety, state labs are investigating foodborne illnesses and communicating with each other — without the help of federal authorities, in many cases — to figure out whether outbreaks have spread.
Dr. Christopher Braden, head of the CDC division that investigates foodborne illness, said the agency will be able to better monitor the salmonella outbreak with the recalled federal staff. But the agency is monitoring more than 30 outbreaks, and gaps still exist as the federal bureaucracy limps through a shutdown beginning its second week.
“There’s a backlog, and the team is going to have to work diligently and long hours to try and overcome that,” Braden said. “It’s possible we may find something we’ve missed, and when that’s the case it’s harder to start investigations later than earlier.”
With staff furloughed last week, the CDC stopped monitoring for some foodborne pathogens, including shigella and campylobacter. The agency is now watching for those again, but Braden said some investigations are still on the back burner, including an ongoing outbreak of salmonella from handling live poultry that has sickened more than 300.
The CDC also has had to halt its surveillance of flu, an infectious disease that kills about 24,000 Americans in an average year. The agency tracks where large numbers of people are getting sick, identifies which strains are going around information, and signals when certain strains are becoming impervious to certain medications.