Antiviral and Antibiotic Shortage: What Parents Need to Know

GettyImages-691579850 (1)
Getty Images

As cold and flu season ramps up and brings respiratory viruses with it, shortages of common antibiotics and cold and flu medications are sweeping the country. 

According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, there are currently shortages of the antibiotics amoxicillin and Augmentin (used to treat bacterial infections like sinusitis and bronchitis), albuterol (commonly prescribed to treat symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath), and oseltamivir (known by the name brand Tamiflu).

Here’s what you need to know about these shortages. 

What’s causing the shortages? 

In the case of Tamiflu, the shortage is likely caused by a higher-than-usual demand due to an early flu season. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of outpatient visits for respiratory and flu-like illnesses so far this flu season has been higher than the rates in the same time frame in the past five years. 

The data from GoodRx’s tracking of Tamiflu fills during the flu season aligns with this CDC data. It shows that the Tamiflu fill rate nationwide so far this season has been higher than previous years during the same time frame.

This early flu season is likely the cause of the Tamiflu shortage, and there’s a shortage of some forms of amoxicillin for a similar reason: increased demand. Since amoxicillin is commonly used to treat bacterial respiratory infections in children, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of increased demand for amoxicillin products.

Similarly, albuterol is also used in cases of respiratory distress, which could explain the shortage.  

What are alternatives for parents with sick kids? 

While some of these common antibiotics and antivirals are in short supply for the time being, there are some alternatives that can be used if you or a family member find themselves sick. 

For example, Xofluza is a newer oral antiviral drug that has been shown to shorten the length of flu symptoms and lower risk of flu-related complications. Relenza, an antiviral drug administered as an oral inhaler, can also be used for flu treatment. 

For bacterial infections that are typically treated with amoxicillin, there are alternatives that can be prescribed, which vary depending on the condition. The good news is that upper respiratory infections, like the flu, are viral and don’t require an antibiotic for treatment. 

There are also over-the-counter options; while these won’t treat the illnesses’ root causes (virus or bacteria), they can help manage symptoms, which is sufficient in many cases. Common over-the-counter options for managing symptoms include Tylenol, ibuprofen, Mucinex DM, Sudafed and Theraflu. 

In addition, there are steps you and your family can take to stay healthy during cold and flu season. While these aren’t fail-safe tactics, there are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk of getting sick.

Some of these steps include washing your hands frequently, getting a flu shot, and wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces. 

This story first appeared on NewYorkFamily.com.