Antibiotic shortages loom as cold and flu season approaches

As the U.S. heads into fall, antibiotics commonly used by children to prevent bacterial infections during cold and flu season remain in short supply.

Amoxicillin is the most commonly prescribed antibiotic among children in the United States. Its liquid formula is a common medication used by doctors to treat children with common winter bacterial infections such as strep throat, sinusitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

However, the drug has been on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s shortage drug list since last fall, following the emergence of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which subsequently caused bacterial infections in millions of children.

Producing the liquid formulation requires amoxicillin powder, the supply of which has been limited since October. The powder is available through some companies that produce it, but FDA reports indicate that its supply is limited and is being distributed, meaning it is distributed evenly to pharmacies and hospitals that need it most as a way to preserve inventory.

What’s causing the amoxicillin shortage?

Only one company on the FDA list that reported a shortage explained why supplies of the drug were limited. Teva Pharmaceuticals – an Israeli company that makes many of the generic drugs used in the United States – blamed the increase in demand.

Antibiotic prescriptions had increased significantly in recent years, even before the pandemic began. According to a February 2023 study, antibiotic prescriptions increased by 54% in the United States between 2019 and 2020.

Although COVID-19 is a viral disease that cannot be treated with antibiotics, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem of overprescription. The same 2023 study showed that up to 55% of COVID-19 outpatients between 2020 and 2021 were given antibiotics, even though they had no signs of secondary infection requiring antibiotics.

Improving antibiotic prescribing is considered a “national priority” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is why it’s so important for healthcare providers to determine whether a patient’s symptoms are due to viruses and bacteria.

Will shortages affect drug availability this winter?

So far, the FDA has not issued any warning that the drug will not be available in the coming months. However, the FDA said in a statement after news of the shortages came to light last year that there was an “urgent need” to increase the supply of these products.

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