Monday, October 14, 2013

Could the Shutdown Make This The Worst Flu Season Ever?

Let's understand that the flu is no joke, and no sport. Getting it can means weeks of suffering  and often wishing you were dead. That's about how I felt after getting the Hong Kong Flu in December, 1968 with the effects lasting for months. It's also close to how my wife felt after getting the H3N2 variety of flu last December. Nonetheless, we reason that it still makes sense to get flu shots - if only because they can at least lessen the effects, symptoms. So this year we got ours at our primary doc's office a week ago. It was the new '4 in 1' vaccine that is supposed to protect against 4 varieties.

We also make sure to get flu shots because the evidence now shows that getting the full bore flu can produce an inflammatory response that weakens already damaged blood vessels making the person more susceptible to a heart attack.  So why take the chance?

It appears that we may have well acted wisely - especially this year- as government and CDC (Center for Disease Control) resources are hobbled and subverted by the Tea Party instigated government attempted hostage -taking and shutdown.  How so? According to former CDC Director David Satcher, for any flu outbreak to occur while two-thirds of the staff of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on furlough could be disastrous.

In an editorial for Bloomberg News, Satcher wrote, "there is a very real potential for unnecessary pain, suffering and death when the work of public-health officials is curtailed.”

This is serious, but we already know that given the priorities of effect arising from the ongoing shutdown, the welfare of  ordinary Americans lies at the bottom of the list. Trumping it are ongoing development of military weapons systems (e.g. the F-35 bomber), which private defense contractors are not about to let go of come hell or high water. Thus, it's no surprise to see how Satcher has laid out just how the diminished capacity of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor disease directly translates into reduced protection for the American people. These include:

- Weakened surveillance for detecting and responding to infectious diseases: Nine of the 10 Global Disease Detection Centers have significantly reduced monitoring for diseases such as Ebola and new pathogens such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (Corona virus) and H7N9, which could threaten the U.S.

- CDC doesn’t have the personnel to monitor, track and provide guidance about seasonal flu activity, even as the season is beginning. Tens of thousands die in the worst flu seasons, what will the death toll be like when little or no monitoring is available? What if the Corona virus strikes at the same time and inadequate personnel are available to make a differential diagnosis from serious influenza? What if the Bird flu strikes?

- Although state public-health investigators can detect disease outbreaks, the CDC’s ability to conduct cross-state collaboration and lab work for linking these outbreaks is critical (see e.g. the film 'Contagion) and hence capacity for state assistance is severely diminished.

- The CDC isn’t able to conduct routine inspections of high-security labs to ensure that they are taking appropriate precautions when handling deadly agents such as anthrax, smallpox, monkeypox and Ebola.  Several incidents concerning lax security have already been reported. What if lack of adequate oversight permits one of the harbored 'beasties' to escape confinement?

- Staffing at the Emergency Operation Center is minimal. In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, the CDC will have difficulty in responding quickly and efficiently to any public-health challenge.  Think of something like an F5 tornado striking Oklahoma or Missouri, or massive flooding in New Jersey from another super storm. Do we really want this?

True, the shutdown may not generate any massive additional illness or compounded catastrophe from lack of resources. But such an outcome may be based  on pure dumb luck, not on rationally appropriated resources, personnel.  As Dr. Satcher puts it:

"Surely we can agree that it is irresponsible to base our disease detection and response strategy on luck.”

Well, rational people may well agree, but this, alas, doesn't include the pro-Dixie Tea Bagger contingent - who have no use for a federal government, and would have their states secede if they could.

No comments: