Hospital workers across the United States are dealing with more flu patients than they've seen in a decade this time of year, and experts predict the numbers will only increase throughout the winter as people gather together in closed, indoor settings during the Christmas season.
So far this flu season, there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths, including 14 children, from flu so far this season, according to CDC estimates.
In addition to the flu, hospitals also report high numbers of patients being admitted for two other respiratory viruses – COVID-19 and RSV, respiratory syncytial virus – leading many to label the current onslaught of three illnesses at once, a "tripledemic."
Adding to the problem, doctors and patients report seeing shortages of several medications such as prescription drugs like Tamiflu, an anti-viral medicine that is used to treat the flu. They're also reporting shortages of amoxicillin, an antibiotic commonly used as the first line of defense for ear infections in children and other bacterial infections, many of which can be secondary infections brought-on by primary viral infections, like the flu.
Nationwide, consumers report being unable to find over-the-counter (OTC) medications on many store shelves across the country. Most notably, nervous parents complain of being unable to find Children's Tylenol, a popular OTC fever reducer and pain reliever that many pediatricians recommend for their young patients who are suffering from respiratory illnesses.
However, Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Children's Tylenol released a statement denying a shortage is happening in the U.S.
"We are not experiencing shortages of Children's Tylenol in the United States," the statement read. "There is increased consumer-driven demand for our children's pain reliever products...and we're taking all possible measures to ensure product availability."
Health experts say if you are experiencing difficulty finding the OTC medication you're looking for, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible substitutions. For example, sometimes Children's Motrin can replace Children's Tylenol. Sometimes home remedies work, like the old-school fever reducer of putting a cold towel on the forehead or back of the neck where the body gets cooled most easily.
Substitutions, however, aren't always available, such as with the current shortage of Adderall, commonly used to treat ADHD. The medication has been in short supply for months, and is not related to the increase in viral illnesses. Patients who use Adderall can discuss possible substitutions with their doctor, which can include the drugs Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera, but not always.
Earlier this year, desperate parents experienced a months-long shortage of another critical pharmaceutical product, baby formula, which, like the Adderall shortage was unrelated to a spike in illnesses.
The Heritage Foundation's Economist Steve Moore told CBN News the Biden administration is responsible for the ongoing pharmaceutical shortages.
"It shows that we still have not solved the supply chain problem," he said. "This was supposed to be solved six to nine months ago. Remember Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary, was supposed to solve this problem."
However, a top Biden administration health official says pharmaceutical shortfalls aren't the administration's fault, and have been around for a long time.
"We have some broader supply chain issues with our medications that we've had for decades," Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator said on ABC's This Week. "I've seen this as a practicing clinician walking into a hospital and finding some normal medicine I'm used to using not available. We have got to continue working on that. We've made a lot of strides in this administration but our work is not done. So we have got to continue making sure that these medicines are available."
So while America struggles with the so-called "tripledemic," doctors and consumers will need to be creative in making do with shortages of medications that treat these illnesses and others.