As if this flu season wasn't scary enough, you might want to take some time to understand how the government shutdown affects your health, because it has a lot to do with flu season. In more ways than one, the government plays a crucial role in allowing doctors and scientists to monitor the scope and severity of national flu epidemics, so when the government ceases to function as it normally would on a day-to-day basis, the nation's battle against the spread and containment of public health crises gets harder.
According to Huffington Post, one major way the government shutdown compounds the danger of flu season is through the massive amount of data the government helps to collect and distribute to physicians across the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federally funded health protection agency, collects weekly reports that track the number of flu outbreaks, their severity, their location, and more, so that doctors can have as much information as possible when treating their patients.
In an interview with Huffington Post, Dr. Lisa Maragakis, the senior director of Infection Prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System, expressed her concerns about what might happen if the government doesn't reopen soon. She explained,
We rely on the national surveillance data being available so we can track the epidemic and understand if we've reached a turning point where disease starts to decline.
The government shutdown affects our ability to track the flu epidemic while it's happening.
When the government shuts down, so do agencies like the CDC. As a result, the nation's hospitals lose invaluable data reports that allow them to track and analyze the status of the flu epidemic.
In a year such as this one, when the flu epidemic has been unusually deadly and widespread, the government shutdown could mean the difference between life and death for some patients, depending on how up-to-date their physicians are on the flu itself.
But doctors don't just use this data for diagnosing current patients; scientists also use it to determine which vaccine the nation should distribute for the upcoming year. This decision is made after scientists look at the most recent trends of the flu epidemic, such as the strain of the flu virus that was most deadly.
Of course, this isn't the first time that the government has shut down.
The last time the United States experienced a government shutdown was in October of 2013, but this did not coincide with peak flu season as it does now.
If the government continues to remain inoperable, this will mean less information is being distributed to physicians, less workers are tracking the flu as it happens (since government employees can't work during a government shutdown), and it also translates to an abrupt halt in research for future diseases, since the National Institute of Health (NIH) can't enroll patients in clinical studies during a shutdown.
If you're starting to seriously panic about the government shutdown getting in the way of your well-being, don't call in sick as a preventative measure just yet.
Even though the NIH can't even process grants for research on things like the flu epidemic, the government shutdown doesn't indicate the complete and utter end of the world. There are certain systems in place that allow the United States to keep functioning (more or less) even when the government isn't.
Your doctor will still be there if you need to go in for a check-up, and the emergency room will still be open. The problem with the government shutdown is the macro vision, when you zoom out and have to think about the flu in a larger scope.
But for now, the best thing you can do is to continue taking all of the same measures that you always do to prevent getting sick. According to Dr. Mia Finkelston, a board-certified family physician who treats patients virtually via the telehealth app LiveHealth Online, "the concern [for the flu] comes for the very young or old and those with co-morbid conditions," meaning people who already live with some sort of preexisting health condition. She tells Elite Daily that "if you are following a healthy lifestyle most of the time and you contract the flu, you will be able to fight it off with the proper care and treatment."
So, take a deep breath, wash your hands, cough into your elbow, and oh, remember to vote later this year during the midterm elections to make sure BS like this doesn't happen in our government.