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Government Shutdown Stops CDC Flu Monitoring

Robbie Owens for CBS 11 News | CBSDFW.COM
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FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - Routine warnings to get a flu vaccine have a new sense of urgency in the wake of the government shutdown.  The Centers for Disease control is no longer monitoring the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases.

“If you go to the website now, they’re telling you they cannot update the flu data because of the federal shutdown,” says Zachary Thompson, Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, “that puts health departments throughout the United States at a disadvantage.”

According to Thompson, local health departments need data that can only be collected by the CDC to monitor the spread of the flu.  He says the information also helps gauge whether the county has an adequate supply of the flu vaccine on hand.

“Right now, we think it’s sufficient,” says Thompson.  “But, not having that flu data, we don’t know if that’s going to be enough to get us through the flu season.”

Information on possible outbreaks is also critical to travelers.  In our increasingly mobile society, packed airplanes don’t just move people across the country—they’re also transporting problems, like the flu.

“I have a daughter who has asthma, so, it’s important for me to know if there’s something going on where I’m going,” says Juana Johnson.  Johnson, a Human Resource manager, travels often on business and says she needs to keep tabs on possible flu outbreaks.

“I’m always checking trends and watching out for things before I travel,” says Johnson.  “I don’t want to take anything from Texas to Denver.   I don’t want  to bring anything back, so that’s a factor.”

And local health officials say it is a real concern.

“If you remember, last year there were outbreaks on the East Coast that moved toward Texas,” says HHS Director Thompson.  “Having that trend analysis helps us understand that the flu is present, where it’s present and how it may be moving toward the Dallas/Fort Worth area.”

So while Congress remains at an impasse, residents like Ann Ross are heading the warnings to get protected from the flu as early as possible. “I think it’s a really good plan,” says Ross, after getting her vaccine at Dallas County’s Stemmons Freeway headquarters.  “I haven’t had the flu in years.”

Still, her frustration with the nation’s lawmakers is growing.

“I am really concerned about it,” says Ross.  “I’m concerned and really kid of mad about it. I just don’t think it needed to happen.”

Experts say the flu should be taken seriously—pointing to figures that say as many as 30,000 Americans die every year because of complications from the flu.  And if the shutdown lingers, there will be no warning that an outbreak is headed this way.

Dallas County offers adult flu shots for $20 Monday through Friday from 8:00AM-4:00 PM.  The childhood vaccine clinic stays open until 6:00 pm on Wednesday, serving children only.

Tom Lazo got his flu vaccine already—and is encouraging family members to do the same.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it,” says Lazo.  “But, hopefully if you do get it, it’s not as bad.  And I encourage everyone to do as the Health Director said, come get your flu shots.”

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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