This cold and flu season is shaping up to be particularly rough, and not just because of the “unprecedented” surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Pharmacies throughout the U.S. are now reporting shortages of the popular antibiotic amoxicillin, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The agency flagged the amoxicillin shortage on its website late last week, noting that the oral solution, which is usually prescribed to pediatric patients, is in short supply. FDA officials told CNN they are aware of “some intermittent supply interruptions” and working with manufacturers to keep up the drug stocked.
Amoxicillin is a penicillin-like drug prescribed to treat a wide range of conditions caused by bacterial infections, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and other infections of the ears, nose, throat, and urinary tract. (Since it targets bacteria, amoxicillin is not an effective treatment against the common cold or flu, which are viral illnesses.) Given the aforementioned uptick in cases of RSV — a common virus that sometimes leads to more serious respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis, especially in very young or immunocompromised children — experts believe this amoxicillin shortage is related to a surge in demand.
“Generally, what we see in the drug shortages is on the production side,” Michael Ganio, senior director for pharmacy practice and quality for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, told CNN. “In this case, we don’t have any indication from the manufacturers that they’re having any sort of difficulty with production. This one seems to be driven by demand, which is a little unusual.”
As of last week, more than 70 percent of pediatric hospital beds in the U.S. were filled amid the current RSV outbreak. The surge is said to be linked to a pandemic “immunity gap” among children who were born during COVID-19-related shutdowns and quarantine mandates. RSV cases usually peak in the winter, so the nation’s healthcare infrastructure wasn’t prepared for an outbreak of this scale so early in the year.
In the event that your child needs an antibiotic prescription, rest assured that there are alternatives to amoxicillin available. Speaking to CNN, Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, told parents “don’t panic” and recommended that they check with their local pharmacy about which antibiotics are currently in stock.
“There is still some amoxicillin,” Fox explained. “It just might need a quick change of prescription.”
Since federal health officials are aware of the concurrent RSV outbreak and amoxicillin shortage, the best thing parents can do to keep their children safe is continue to prioritize personal hygiene. That includes regular hand-washing, proper sneezing and coughing etiquette, and staying home if you or your child feel sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These preventative measures are especially important for families with children at high risk of severe illness from RSV and other respiratory viruses like it. Vulnerable groups include premature babies, infants less than 6 months old, children with weakened immune systems, and children with congenital lung or heart disease.
And hey, let’s be real: With cold and flu season looming large and the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, these are good practices for everyone to implement regardless of their age or risk factors.
Before you go, check out our favorite cough and cold products for kids that are all natural:
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