Shutdown Cripples CDC’s Ability to Assist With Salmonella Outbreak
Well, that didn’t take long
The first crisis to be directly impacted by the U.S. government’s shutdown reared its head this week in the form of a Salmonella outbreak that’s affecting at least 18 states thus far. Wired’s Maryn McKenna reports:
While the government is shut down, with food-safety personnel and disease detectives sent home and forbidden to work, a major foodborne-illness outbreak has begun. This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.
“FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”
This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week. As a reminder, a CDC staffer told me at the time:
“I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations. States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won’t be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.”
That means that the lab work and molecular detection that can link far-apart cases and define the size and seriousness of outbreaks are not happening. At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails.
Yes, the shutdown has effectively hamstrung the CDC’s crisis management, leaving the department without resources to monitor, provide information about, or combat an issue directly affecting consumer health. Now one Salmonella outbreak isn’t going to create mass chaos, but it is a sign of the dangers involved in the political drama being played out in Washington. Let’s hope they get it together soon.
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[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]