Shortage of IV bags in US keeps many hospitals rationing

World Today

Hospitals-Flu Season-Shortages (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cautious progress.

That’s what the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says about the effort to relieve a severe shortage of I.V. bags at many hospitals.

The supply was disrupted after September’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, where several manufacturing plants were damaged.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

They’ve long been a staple of medical care. Intravenous saline bags are used to administer antibiotics to hospital patients, and they’re key to reversing dehydration in, among others, those who suffer from the flu.

“This is often used just to rehydrate people. It is basically saltwater that we’re putting back into people’s bloodstream.”, said Dr. Winston Tripp at St. Anthony Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director.

A majority of I.V. bags are manufactured by Baxter International at its plants in Puerto Rico. So when Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in September, the supply to the U.S. slowed considerably.

I.V. bags containing amino acids, which kidney dialysis patients rely on for nutrition, made in Puerto Rico as well, have also been in short supply.

The demand for I.V. bags has overwhelmed other manufacturers, forcing them to limit what medical providers are able to receive. Many hospitals have had to conserve the bags they do have.

“Does the patient still need I.V. fluids hung if they’re getting ready to go home or their medical condition has stabilized? Can that I.V. be discontinued?”, said Dr. Winston Tripp.

Some hospitals now administer antibiotics in a syringe, instead of mixing it with saline, a more time consuming method.

The head of St. Anthony’s Emergency Department says a big lesson of this shortage is that critical drugs shouldn’t rest.

“In the hands of one company where we’re so dependent that one hurricane taking out one plant is going to cripple us like this.”, said Dr. Winston Tripp.

I.V. bag production is gradually being restored in Puerto Rico, but full supply may still be months away.