Federal authorities are struggling to explain why 600 people in 22 states have fallen ill from a foodborne parasite rarely seen in the United States.
But some officials are ready to finger one culprit that has hindered their investigation: the sequester.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had to slash $285 million at a time when food and health experts say disease detection needs more funding as these type of food outbreak cases become more complex and widespread.
The investigation into how this disease outbreak occurred has been going on for months. It appear snot to be a simple “this production farm used bad practices” sort of thing.
The farm in question seems to pass FDA inspection. So something complex is going on and the CDC thinks there may be at least 2 different outbreaks involved here, with contamination coming somewhere else along the supply line.
And why is it taking so long to figure out where? The CDC does not have the money or manpower to do this well.
The sequester required the CDC to cut 8% of its budget. But, what many do not realize is that the 8% is not to their entire budget, which would give the CDC the freedom to decide where to make the cuts. It is 8% to every line item in the budget – every department, every program has the same cut. There is no discretion.
And the CDC’s greatest costs come from its employees. So fewer employees mean that there are fewer people to deal with surveillance of disease, with less people to investigate an outbreak.
But it is even worse than that. Modern technology allows us to genetically fingerprint infectious bugs with tremendous clarity. This would immediately determine whether there are multiple outbreaks and might even give a hint as to the path of infection.
Modern technology moves very fast. The machines that the CDC needs are new and cost a lot of money. Money they do not have. So they are stuck with technology that is older (perhaps only by a few years) and much less precise.
“We’re trying to do real detective work without fingerprints because we don’t have the technology to do it,” said CDC spokesperson Barbara Reynolds. “It’s really exciting technology, but there has to be an investment in software, hardware, and training.”
All of which are impossible to do in the current budget climate. There is no flexibility because there is no discretion in the budget. So we do not know why this outbreak happened or how to prevent another one. Or even if one is happening?
Take this disease, for example – the brain-easting amoeba, Naegleria. It primarily infects people from warm, fresh water sources, something climate change is creating many more of. It has a fatality rate of over 99% (which pretty much means just about everyone). It is a nasty way to go.
If it became more virulent, a lot of people would die. Would the CDC even be able to determine what changed without the technology required?
Perhaps unlikely but who knows without the surveillance needed, without the diagnostics needed and without the research to understand.
The exact same thing is happening at the FDA and the NIH.The sequester lowered the ability of the FDA to make new purchases by 25%. Its decreasing ability to shepherd a universal flu vaccine into production is a vivid example of the harm to us all:
“If you want to convert this into real meaningful numbers, that means people are going to die of influenza five years from now because we don’t yet have the universal vaccine,” he said. “And God help us if we get a worldwide pandemic that emerges in the next five years, which takes a long time to prepare a vaccine for. If we had the universal vaccine, it would work for that too.
God is the only one who will help because it won’t come from Congress.
Of course, this vaccine would need to be approved by the FDA, which is having to slow down drug approval tremendously because of the sequester.
People are sickened now.They will die in the future.
All because the Congress cannot pass a budget. One that actually makes some hard decisions about where to put money.