Flu causing strain on saline supplies at some WI hospitals

JANESVILLE (WKOW) — A nationwide flu epidemic has hospitals scrambling to stock essential supplies people need to get healthy, which are already in short supply.

Hospitals like SSM Health St. Mary’s in Janesville go through cases of saline IV bags every week to keep people hydrated when they’re sick. Experts say there’s been a saline shortage for years, but it’s gotten worse after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, where those bags are made. 

Now, with the flu reaching an epidemic, it’s straining the resource even more. 

"We’ve been allocated as low as 60 to 70 percent of our average monthly use, so, we’ve had to make cuts," said Laurie Wurster, pharmacy director at the hospital. "We’ve had to change strategies sometimes for how we use our product."

Wurster says using less without impacting patient care has them turning to other hospitals in the SSM system to find extra supplies and the team works closely with producers to communicate about current stock. Doctors have reassessed how they use saline to help ration it. 

Usually, the Janesville hospital sees three or four cases of flu every week. Right now, they’re seeing nine or 10 patients with the illness and it started earlier than usual.

"We started seeing an increase in influenza in December, right before Christmas, so that’s always a concern when it starts so early. Generally, we don’t start seeing peaks until February or March," the hospital’s infection preventionist Brenda Klahn told 27 News.

Klahn says a high number of people with respiratory illnesses have also been coming in with dehydration and other conditions requiring saline, so it’s been a difficult season. The numbers could increase even more when we hit the normal peak time of year. 

We also reached out to UW Health about this saline shortage. Officials say their primary IV bag supplier has cut back on shipments, but they’ve been able to minimize the impact by finding alternatives to manage the shortage. So far, they say that has not affected patient care. 

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