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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — House lawmakers are at odds over whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should encourage its employees to get a medical evaluation prior to flying.
“Hospitals may not be able to get the initial diagnosis fast enough,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said. “They’re not generally where the first alarm is that there’s an outbreak, but they can be where the first alarms begin to indicate a potential outbreak.”
The committee is holding a hearing on Friday morning with the CDC, the National Association of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the Food and Drug Administration to discuss what Congress should do in the wake of last month’s deadly outbreak of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. It has left hundreds of kids with limited movement and finicky hand-eye coordination unable to function, paralyzed by a mystery infection.
CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald says that CDC employees, who are overseen by their state agencies, should not be asked to get an evaluation in anticipation of traveling.
“Anecdotally, we see that that strategy works, that individuals are not flying, that those folks are not getting sick,” she said.
In a letter to the committee, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote that “there are unintended consequences of this strategy.” For example, employees in public health posts exposed to potential harmful pathogens “have difficulty getting a VA designation, and all airline fliers (including CDC responders) carry the potential risk of another public health event that might harm their employer.”
In 2015, while working as the CDC’s deputy director, Fitzgerald was diagnosed with pneumonia. She returned to work, and then soon developed a fever, which led to a visit to the doctor. The then-deputy director did not undergo a medical evaluation, and the staff on hand to handle the AFM outbreak did not see any symptoms.
In a similar vein, at the last hearing before AFM’s outbreak began, Georgia Secretary of Health Medical Affairs Ralph Hudgens said it took a week for the CDC to respond to AFM, while his office was alerting state health departments, including the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters, about the emergency.
The CDC has repeatedly warned that people should not experience fever after traveling in an outbreak environment, and they should plan to consume food and water that have been inspected. However, the CDC considers many cases to be “false positives,” such as persistent symptoms that disappear before an investigation can be launched.
Last week, the CDC announced it has classified a couple of suspected cases in California as acute flaccid myelitis, and said they plan to formally label the cases on Friday.