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13 Oct 2013

Government shutdown: We are all exposed, especially our health

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October 13, 2013 Category: Health Posted by:

By Kevin Dedner, MPH

The government shutdown is leaving all of us exposed. It may be easy for some to watch the news and conclude that the shutdown has nothing to do with them.
For those people, I’d invite you to consider the impact of the shutdown on the public health infrastructure.

Among the 800,000 federal employees, public health workers were also sent home on October 1st . The US Department of Health and Human Services sent 52
percent of its employees home. These workers are responsible for protecting our nation’s health. They often go unnoticed, but if the shutdown lingers for
an extended period of time, we will all miss them.

The Centers for Disease Control has protected citizens from the spread of influenza year after year, providing support to states on the distribution of
vaccines. The annual seasonal influenza efforts have been halted. Additionally, prevention efforts and surveillance of diseases like tuberculosis and
HIV/AIDS have been halted also. Prevention efforts and the monitoring of disease are essential to the public health of society.

You’d also be disappointed to know that food inspection services of the FDA, which is responsible for 80 percent of our food supply, has halted routine
food inspections. To say it very simply, there is no oversight of basically anything in the grocery store. Furthermore, the employees that identify and
track foodborne illnesses have also been sent home.

I’m sure the health department officials in western Kentucky, who are working to arrest a deadly Salmonella outbreak, would appreciate the federal support
and expertise. The outbreak is already blamed for one death, for sending five people to area hospitals and for at least 15 cases in three counties. Meat
and poultry inspections continue.

A public health system is designed to coordinate an adequate response to disease and prevent future disease. This is service that is rightly provided by
government. The notion that a society can function without a government simply isn’t true.

The shutdown leaves all of us exposed. I hope Congress realizes that.

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