Medical professionals are warning that flu season could be more dangerous this year than last, and not because of any new strain of the virus.
Hurricane Maria exacerbated an existing saline solution shortage that has major implications when it comes to treating flu patients.
The shortage of the ubiquitous intravenous bags of saline has been going on since 2014, but the supply got hit even further when the hurricane damaged the country’s biggest supplier in Puerto Rico last fall.
Clinics and hospitals are worried as peak flu season approaches:
“This is a serious situation and right now we are at the limits of our conservation and adaptation strategy,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, director of the Center for Disaster Medicine and vice chairman for emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The Federal Drug Administration indicated the supply of IV bags should begin increasing soon and continue to improve over the coming weeks. One of the largest suppliers, Baxter in Puerto Rico, is up and running again.
“Based on the information we’re receiving from the companies, we expect that the shortage of IV saline fluids will improve in early 2018, with continuing improvements in the weeks ahead,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said last week.
“Given the improvements we’ve seen over the last few weeks, I’m optimistic that supplies of IV saline and amino acids will increase over the next few weeks and the stress of the shortage will begin to abate, even if the shortages will not be fully resolved immediately. That said, the production situation in Puerto Rico remains fragile.”
In the meantime, hospitals are trying to mitigate the situation by using Gatorade, Pedialyte, and other oral options as much as possible, reserving IV fluids only for those who absolutely cannot ingest liquids.
“In the hospital sometimes the default is to give intravenous fluids just because it is something we are used to doing,” Biddinger said.
“We are making a much greater effort to give Gatorade, to give Pedialyte, to give rehydration solutions when appropriate,” he added. “If someone needs intravenous fluids, they definitely get intravenous fluids.”