We’re facing the worst flu season in more than a decade and cases of COVID-19 and RSV are also on the rise. Yet health systems and pharmacies are running out of antibiotics like amoxicillin and other important drugs. Antibiotics, antivirals, and pediatric cold and flu medications have been scarce as the U.S. faces yet another round of shortages.
“This is pulling back the curtain on what has been a very ugly scenario for years,” says Sterling Elliott, assistant professor of orthopedics and clinical pharmacist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Drug shortages have been plaguing this country for years across the board. Now it realty hits home because it’s little kids being affected in aisles of grocery stores and pharmacies, but this is a much bigger story than mom or dad not being able to get liquid ibuprofen for their kids.”
According to Axios, the shortages are not about a supply chain problem as in the recent case of baby formula when manufacturers had been removed from the market.
“This is a sophisticated supply chain,” explained Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member. “All manufacturers are in the market. They just didn’t anticipate this much demand this early in the season.”
Alarmingly, the shortages stretch beyond antibiotics or common children’s medicines and have impacted drugs such as albuterol, a mainstay of asthma rescue medication, said Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, an emergency department physician at Children’s National Hospital.
“This isn’t something that’s a brand name and we just have to shift to something slightly different,” she says. “This is the generic. This is the medicine.”
Over-the-counter medications such as Children’s Tylenol and Motrin are in short supply, says Healthline. Tamiflu, the only medication approved by the FDA for the treatment of influenza in children younger than five years of age, is also facing a dangerous increase in demand this season and experts say there are shortages in this medication as well.
Experts remind parents that the majority of upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses and resolved without the need for antibiotics. But there are ways to protect children. One of the first things parents can do is to get their kids tested if they have symptoms of the cold, flu, or COVID-19. This will avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics that can lead to additional infections, as well as antibiotic resistance.
Get your child vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 as soon as possible if they haven’t already been vaccinated to prevent your child from becoming seriously ill. There is no current vaccine for RSV.
“If your child does require medication and the pharmacies in your area don’t have the medicine, ask your doctor about what alternative formulations, such as chewable or crushable tablets, or medications, such as second-line antibiotics, may be used,” said Dr. James Antoon, assistant professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
There are also home remedies that may help relieve symptoms, although fevers should be treated with anti-fever medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Nasal congestion may be relieved by using a humidifier or steam from a warm shower, says Healthline. A warm bath may relieve body aches and honey can soothe a sore throat. But do not give honey to children under the age of 12 months.
Do NOT give children smaller doses of adult medications, warns Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatric hospitalist at Stanford Children’s Health.
“Parents should not try and give smaller adult doses or attempt to treat infections on their own with another antibiotic, a leftover supply, or a relative or friend’s antibiotic,” he says. “Antibiotic misuse, on its own, is a widespread and dangerous problem that should be avoided.”
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