Hurricane aftermath: Damage leads to hospital shortage of drug supplies from Puerto Rico

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Damage from Hurricane Maria has impacted the flow of medical devices and pharmaceuticals to the U.S. mainland. (The Photographer/Creative Commons)

Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, but hospitals in the mainland U.S. are also feeling the effects because manufacturing plants on the island have limited power, which has slowed production of critical drug supplies.

Power is still out in much of Puerto Rico and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the agency is working with dozens of pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help get them back online. 

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Pharmacists at a half dozen U.S. hospitals told The New York Times that a shortage of commonly-needed items like fluid bags creates a "domino effect," leading to shortfalls across the board.

Philip J. Trapskin, program medication manager of medical use strategy and innovation at University of Wisconsin Health, told the newspaper that the shortage has yet to impact patient care but that there are "no guarantees that we will continue to get the supplies we need." He said it's often "a race" for providers to secure supplies and find alternatives.

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In response to the shortage, for example, the FDA has allowed Baxter, a company that produces fluid bags, to import the products from facilities in Ireland and Australia. It's rationing its supply output to hospitals based on a percentage of what they normally need, according to the article.

Damage from Hurricane Maria, which followed two other strong storms in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, pushed Puerto Rico's medical services to the limits. The island's electrical grid could be down for months, and food and supplies are stretched thin. 

Public health officials worry, too, that the worst may be yet to come. With significant standing water, mosquito-borne disease could find a foothold on the island.