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Idle CDC Worries Experts about the Spread of Flu

The fall flu season in the U.S. is unfolding largely unobserved.

The CDC's labs and surveillance programs are idle, thanks to the government shutdown, and outside experts are worried that essential data is being lost.

Indeed, a CDC spokeswoman stated that just about all of the regular apparatus that monitors flu and flu-like illness has been shut down. Some 80% to 85% of the usual staff is on enforced leave.

 

That means information about such things as pediatric influenza, anti-viral resistance, admissions to hospital for flu or flu-like illness, and mortality and morbidity owing to pneumonia and influenza is not being gathered.

There is no "national snapshot" of the flu season.

But it's not just data and it's not just flu, according to Gregory Poland, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"There are an endless number of infectious disease threats that, as we often say, are an airplane ride away from us," Poland said. And the CDC is the "only entity" that tracks infectious disease on a national scale, he added. "So now you've got a week, 2 weeks, who knows how long, where there's no one really responsible for watching what's happening nationally."

He painted a grim picture of what might happen while the agency is all-but-shuttered.

"Worst-case scenario is a novel infectious disease is imported into the U.S.," he said, with cases scattered at first across a dozen states. "Nobody understands that it's happening simultaneously in real time and we don't have 12 cases, we have 1,200 cases before we realize what's going on."

The CDC noted that state health departments are still collecting flu data, but their information is not being sent to the CDC. Among other things, that means the agency has no idea of the geographic spread of the disease – something that's often used to smooth out the delivery of vaccine.

There will be some 135 million doses of vaccine available, with about 73 million already delivered, and the government shutdown won't affect that, they added.

But no one will know if the season is mild or severe, if the vaccine strains match those circulating in the community, or if the flu has developed resistance to anti-viral medications.,

This is probably a really bad time not to have the CDC on the job.

While experiencing this temporary inconvenience, do your best to protect your practice by ensuring that your workers receive their flu shot.

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