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Mayo Clinic warns of public-health risks of federal shutdown

The head of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group says the federal-government shutdown risks the health of the U.S. population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "is largely out of commission" because of the shutdown, according to a statement from Mayo that quotes Dr. Greg Poland. That means surveillance of emerging infectious-disease outbreaks is lacking.

"We're starting influenza season, there are measles and rubella outbreaks occurring in the world, polio, enterovirus, the coronavirus that we've seen out of the Middle East, avian influenza," said Poland, an infectious-disease specialist and a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. "There are an endless number of infectious-disease threats that, as we often say, are an airplane ride away from us. Who's going to monitor this over this time period."

The CDC generally tracks outbreaks and, when needed, responds with masked-and-gowned teams that help control the spread of the illness.

"Flu season is under way, but how many Americans have been hit so far, how badly, and which influenza bugs are to blame is unclear," says a statement released this morning by Mayo. "That information is important to prevent and manage outbreaks, and it is crucial for creation of the next batch of influenza vaccines."


According to Mayo's statement from Poland, "this flu season, the nation is flying (and coughing, and sneezing, and maybe worse) blind."

"There are an endless number of infectious-disease threats that, as we often say, are an airplane ride away from us," said Poland, who also serves on the U.S. Defense Health Board and, at Mayo, leads the Program in Translational Immunovirology and Biodefense. "Who's going to monitor this over this time period?"

In 2009, he said,H1N1 first appeared in small numbers internationally, so it was hard to recognize the emerging pandemic.

The CDC figured it out "inside a couple of weeks," Poland said.

"So that's how fast these things can move and why you need somebody really doing that real-time surveillance," he said.

Lack of CDC surveillance this flu season, Poland said, "means…we do not have a key ingredient with which to protect ourselves, and that's situational awareness."

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