The federal government shutdown could be hazardous to the health of all Americans, according to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. The Centers for Disease Control, which Harkin calls the world’s premiere public health agency, is closed. Less than two weeks ago, Harkin says the CDC identified frozen berries from the nation of Turkey as the cause of hundreds of people in several states being sickened by hepatitis-A.
“The CDC detective epidemiological team went out, they recalled all this food and they stopped it before it spread any further,” Harkin says. “That team is at home now. They’re not working. What if we have another bad food outbreak today, tomorrow, this weekend?” Harkin says the CDC is shut down — all the labs are closed, the scientists are furloughed and the expert hotlines that physicians and the public call for information are turned off.
He notes, infectious illnesses and outbreaks of foodborne disease don’t abide by federal furloughs. “As you know, we had another outbreak in August,” Harkin says. “Remember the lettuce? It started in Iowa. They traced it to Texas and a few other places. A lot of people got sick but CDC was able to track it down, stop it, isolate it.” That outbreak of cyclospora sickened more than 240 people in Iowa and Nebraska. Hundreds of others had similar intestinal illnesses in 20 other states.
Harkin, a Democrat, chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “I don’t mean to unduly frighten anybody but these are things that happened and they’ve happened in the recent past and because we had CDC on the job, the American people were kept safe,” Harkin says. “Now, they’re not.”
Harkin also bemoans the fact the CDC has stopped monitoring influenza, as flu season is just beginning. He says the flu leads to more than 200,000 Americans being hospitalized every year. In a mild year, 3,000 Americans who get the flu will die, and in a severe year, the toll can rise to almost 50,000.