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First flu hospitalizations, but furloughed CDC can't track

Oct. 10, 2013 at 10:29 PM   |   Comments

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SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- There have been some hospitalizations due to influenza, but with health officials furloughed it is impossible to track if this year's flu season is early.

Nicholas Rupp, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, told The Salt Lake Tribune the county had its first influenza hospitalization, a child under the age of 18.

Rupp said the county will still collect and report its flu data, but the data won't be analyzed or tracked by health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta because of the federal government shutdown.

However, the shutdown won't affect immunization programs.

"Our vaccines have already been purchased," Rupp told the Tribune. In addition, there are influenza vaccines available at most drug stores and health clinics.

A memo titled "Contingency Staffing Plan for Operations in the Absence of Enacted Annual Appropriations" prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said:

"HHS' contingency plans for agency operations in the absence of appropriations would lead to furloughing 40,512 staff and retaining 37,686 staff as of day two of a near-term funding hiatus. Put another way, 52 percent of HHS employees would be on furlough, and 48 percent would be retained. These percentages vary among HHS' agencies and offices, with grant-making and employee-intensive agencies such as the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality having the vast majority of their staff on furlough, and agencies with a substantial direct service component such as the Indian Health Service having most of their staff retained."

The memo said the CDC would be "unable to support the annual seasonal influenza program, outbreak detection and linking across state boundaries using genetic and molecular analysis, continuous updating of disease treatment and prevention recommendations -- e.g., HIV, tuberculous, sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis -- and technical assistance, analysis and support to state and local partners for infectious disease surveillance."

Tuesday, the CDC recalled 30 staff members from its epidemiology and monitoring services to deal with an outbreak of the Salmonella Heidelberg strain that has sickened 278 people -- and hospitalized 42 percent -- traced back to three California poultry plants.

Although the CDC staff that deals with food outbreaks had been furloughed, inspectors at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service were allowed to stay on the job, and their work helped pinpoint the link of the sickness and raw chicken produced by Foster Farms.

However, the HHS memo also said U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities.

"The FDA would also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs -- e.g., food contact substances, infant formula -- and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making," the memo said.

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