Flu causes IV saline shortage, visitor restrictions at hospitals

A spike in flu activity has led to a shortage of intravenous (IV) solutions, particularly saline, which is used millions of times a week to treat dehydration and other flu symptoms, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced.

The FDA is working with manufacturers Baxter Healthcare Corp., B. Braun Medical Inc. and Hospira Inc. to preserve product supply and address the IV fluids shortage, something that has never occurred during previous flu seasons, including the 2009-2010 H1N1 "swine flu" outbreak, WPVI News in Philadelphia reported.

Some health officials blame production problems for the shortage, which began when Baxter shut down its plant for two weeks for FDA inspections and equipment upgrades this fall, according to the article. Baxter then informed customers it would temporarily stop making 150 mL sodium chloride injection bags until at least April because of higher demand for the 250 mL model.

Baxter "is making every effort to meet the needs of acute and critical care settings and other customers," a spokesperson told MedPageToday, adding that the company's production "will be maintained at maximum levels." The spokesperson said Baxter is tightly managing its inventory through a "temporary allocation and fulfillment process in order to expedite product for urgent need," the news outlet reported.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists called it a "critical shortage" and urged doctors to follow conservation strategies, according to the article.

The shortage comes as flu numbers across the country rise so drastically that hospitals must regulate or bar sick visitors to prevent further spread of the illness.

In Illinois, where 450 people have been in intensive care units with the flu-like symptoms and 37 people are dead, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital requires that all visitors be at least 18 and show no signs of illness. The hospital limits each patient to just two visitors at a time, according to The Republic. Meanwhile, the California-based Scripps Hospital started screening visitors last week at five of its San Diego County facilities, turning away those who displayed flu-like symptoms and children less than 14 years old, Vaccine News Daily reported.

Earlier this month, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas started rescheduling elective surgeries, turning away non-trauma patients and asking staff to work extra shifts to deal with the influx of flu patients, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

In December, 25 states across the country noted widespread flu activity, with 19 states describing regional activity, FierceHealthcare previously reported.  

To learn more:
- here's the FDA announcement
- read the WPVI article
- check out the MedPage Today article
- here's the Republic piece
- see Vaccine News Daily's coverage
- read the Star-Telegram article