Amid a government shutdown, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot do the job of watching the nation’s health. With two-thirds of the staff furloughed, about 13,000 employees worldwide, the CDC’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, says he is losing sleep.

fuloughed cdcWithout personnel, the agency is not on top of outbreaks that could kill Americans.

For example, it’s the CDC that noted a meningitis outbreak among people who had been injected with a contaminated steroid from a compounding pharmacy last year. By coordinating efforts with the states, the injectable solution could be identified and destroyed.

The same goes for outbreaks of flu that occur state by state. We are in our second month of flu season so the timing couldn’t be worse. With the government shutdown the CDC will not be able to track and produce national maps on the location and types of flu outbreaks.

When the government tracks and identifies outbreaks, depending on where they occur, one medication over another might be recommended. A day care center or nursing home may have a different response to the outbreak of communicable disease. Whether Hepatitis A, salmonella, measles or Legionnaire’s disease, without data tracking outbreaks there may not be an ability to direct vaccine programs to where they are necessary to save lives.

Huffington Post reports the Republican shutdown has put at risk the entire Women, Children and Infants Program, which provides 9 million Americans with support to feed their children.

The Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of the nation’s food supply. But the Department of Health and Human Services says few if any inspectors are on the job and will not inspect food plants.

While the Department of Agriculture will continue inspecting meat production facilities, inspectors for other types of food are considered non-essential so Americans are on their own with food safety including imported vegetables and food manufacturing plants.

About 80 facilities are inspected every day for compliance with health and safety regulations. For example, those not in compliance generally get warning letters to clean up their act – from mold found around food, to insects buzzing in food facilities and unacceptable levels of drug residue found in veal that comes from calves.

Knowing inspectors are not making a call could make things even more lax. That means if a continuing government shutdown leads to any preventable deaths, those in Congress who held up services in protest of the new Affordable Healthcare Act, will surely be responsible.