On the heels of a multi-state outbreak of salmonella that has sickened hundreds, some were wondering what would happen with most of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s food-borne illness staff on furlough during the government shutdown. The CDC is now reassuring the public that it has called back many of its workers to handle the outbreak.
Part of the problem of tracing the outbreak was because the shutdown forced the CDC to shut down PulseNet, a national network of public health laboratories it uses to find trends and match reports during outbreaks.
“We were trying to do this without the automatic system, and it was nearly impossible,” CDC Public Affairs director Barbara Reynolds told USA Today. “We were doing it by hand, and it just become untenable.”
CDC director Thomas Frieden determined that not having PulseNet was resulting in “an imminent threat to health and safety,” which allowed the agency to bring back those seven furloughed workers. “It’s back up and running as of today.”
“Earlier in the shutdown we had only one person on Pulsenet (the foodborne illness network),” Reynolds told CBS News. “But we’re now bringing in almost a full staff to monitor the salmonella outbreak and 30 others.”
Meanwhile, the CDC said yesterday that this salmonella outbreak involves several antibiotic-resistant strains, and has put at least 42% of its 278 victims in the hospital.
“That’s a high percentage,” Reynolds tells USA Today. “You would expect about 20% hospitalizations with salmonella Heidelberg.”
While 13% of the sick have salmonella septicemia, which is a life-threatening whole-body inflammation, there have been no deaths linked to the outbreak, which has shown up in 18 states.
“This outbreak shows that it is a terrible time for government public health officials to be locked out of their offices and labs, and for government websites to go dark,” adds Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington who was briefed by the director of the division of food-borne illness at the CDC.
Again, the chicken hasn’t been recalled because the Food Safety and Inspection Service arm of the USDA “is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period. Consumers can identify products that came from the three plants by looking for these packaging codes: P6137, P6137A and P7632.
Always make sure to cook raw chicken until an internal temperature of 165 degrees as indicated by a food thermometer.