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Antibiotic, Tamiflu shortage adding to the stress of an early respiratory virus season

State data updated Wednesday shows the number of reported flu and COVID-19 cases in North Carolina increased over the last week.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — According to the CDC, both North and South Carolina are still experiencing very high flu activity. State data updated Wednesday shows the number of reported flu and COVID-19 cases in North Carolina increased over the last week.

It’s not even the height of the typical flu season yet, but many people have already caught a respiratory virus.

“We’ve seen an increase in flu, we’ve seen an increase in strep, ear infections, some RSV, COVID is still going around,” Natalie Anderson, the pharmacist at Dilworth Drug and Wellness Center, said.

Doctors’ offices and hospitals across the region are slammed with patients. Statewide, the number of emergency department visits for flu-like illness is way up compared to the same time in the past two years.

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“We are seeing higher rates of flu now as compared to both during the COVID pandemic and even the years prior to the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Ward Adcock, the Vice President of Medical Affairs at CaroMont Health, said.

At CaroMont Health in Gaston County, the number of flu admissions hasn’t been this high since 2009. Adcock said the number of flu cases will likely rise over the next two to three months.

“I would urge anyone if you haven’t been vaccinated yet to please go out and get vaccinated because that’s the best way to prevent the flu,” he said. “And we’re seeing already that this year’s flu vaccine is very effective.”

Compounding the stress, pharmacists across the country are having a hard time keeping their shelves stocked with certain antibiotics and antivirals, including Tamiflu.

It's a nationwide shortage.

“We’ve had a huge challenge being able to get antibiotics like amoxicillin, Augmentin, that turned into a decrease in the ability to get Tamiflu too in the last couple of weeks," Anderson said. "And these are things that people need right away not that they can wait on."

Pharmacists at Dilworth Drug and Wellness Center are taking whatever allocations they can get, using new suppliers and in some cases, working with doctors on alternative treatments.

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“I can’t really pinpoint a time when I couldn’t get Tamiflu and there’s like zero available," Anderson said. "Now that they’ve had some allocations this week, we were able to get six one day but especially with the pediatric population, sometimes we have to use two or three bottles just for one patient so that doesn’t really go far."

With the stress on the healthcare system, doctors say this year more than ever it’s important to take as many preventative steps as possible. It is not too late to get vaccinated and doctors stress people shouldn’t put it off any longer.

“If you were thinking I’ll just maybe take Tamiflu if I happen to get flu this season, that may not work out because there may not be availability in the outpatient pharmacy,” Adcock said.

Hand washing and staying home when sick are also important.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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