Utah experiencing early flu season, pediatric drug shortage

UTAH — Flu season had an early start this year in the United States, and Utah is no exception.

For the week of December 11 to December 17, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services reported 633 seasonal influenza-associated hospitalizations throughout the state.

According to Janelle Delgadillo, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, the rapid spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses this year could be due to a lack of community immunity.

“For this season, specifically, we know that that’s partially because there’s a lack of community immunity that happened due to the last two years,” Delgadillo said. “So it’s kind of an indicator this year that we really are having very quick transmission in our community, and that can also mean that more people are going to get sick early on. Also, with this year, because we’ve seen it kind of coalesce with RSV a little bit. That means that our hospitals and our health care workers are going to be very strained because they’re sort of dealing with two different illnesses at the same time.”

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According to a statement from Intermountain Healthcare, more children in Utah and throughout the Intermountain West are requiring advanced pediatric and critical care, as well as longer hospitalization times, putting a strain on Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as well as Intermountain hospitals across the state.

“For each of the past three weeks, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has rescheduled approximately 50 pre-scheduled, non-emergency procedures and surgeries that would require an inpatient stay to help free up beds and caregivers needed to help the surge of sick children,” said a statement from Intermountain Healthcare. “This equates to about 10 percent of all surgeries and procedures at the hospital each week. Patients who urgently need surgeries and procedures will continue to receive them.”

Flu season’s early start and an uptick in other respiratory illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have also increased demand for non-prescription fever relievers and other products, particularly those for children.

“There are more sick kids at this time of year than we have seen in the past couple years,” Dr. Shannon Dillon, a pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, told the Associated Press. “At this point, it’s more like toilet paper at the beginning of the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Dillon said. “You just have to look in the right place at the right time.”

Currently, CVS Health has placed a two-product limit on all children’s pain relief products. Walgreens is limiting customers online to six purchases of children’s over-the-counter fever-reducing products. However, that limit doesn’t apply in stores. At many stores, however, children’s pain relief products are simply out of stock.

Over-the-counter drugs aren’t the only ones in short supply; amoxicillin, the prescription antibiotic often used to treat infections such as strep throat, is currently on the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage list.

As far as resolving drug shortage issues, Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, told the Associated Press that it depends on whether there are enough workers and stores to deliver these products and stock store shelves. Fox also notes that these shortages are not due to factory issues or a lack of available ingredients.

“I don’t expect this to last a year or more like some of our other shortages do,” Fox told the Associated Press.

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