H-CENTRAL COAST

Oct 1, 2013 5:22 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Government shutdown could affect public health

Local health officials say the current federal government shutdown could also put the public's health at risk. A reduced workforce at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will bring the agency almost to a standstill, leaving local health officials especially concerned coming just two days after the flu season began. "The flu vaccine is one of our most important public health strategies," said Dr. Penny Borenstein of San Luis Obispo County Public Health. She says the present government shutdown could put future vaccines at risk. According to county health officials, the flu is tracked all year long by both state and local governments. Those numbers are then handed off to the CDC, where that information on strains and other valuable data is turned into next year's vaccine, but the CDC workers who do that won't be showing up for work Tuesday. "To not have good information this year would more likely effect next year's vaccine development," said Borenstein. A nutrition program for low income mothers known as WIC has also fallen victim to the shutdown, halting the program's federal funding. Two federal employees working for the county on public health outreach were also told to stay home. Even critical supplies from CDC used by the county are at risk. "We would be unable to test for certain illnesses and they could conceivably go undocumented," said Borenstein. That means the CDC will not be conducting investigations into food poisoning outbreaks, monitoring the measles epidemic, nor will it have the ability to oversee the start of flu season. "If a government shutdown were to go on for a long time, it could seriously have consequences for us," said Borenstein. If this shutdown continues, public health officials will depend more on the World Health Organization for assistance during potential outbreaks.

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