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There Is a Serious Shortage of IV Bags in The U.S. After Hurricane Maria

The least reported aftereffect.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
9 JAN 2018
 

Ever since Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean, hospitals in Puerto Rico and the continental U.S. have reported serious shortages of intravenous fluids and bags.

Despite how worrying the shortages are, the issue was one of the least-reported aftereffects of the damage caused by the hurricane, which hit Puerto Rico on September 20 last year. 

 

That is - until a tweet from a concerned U.S. citizen brought the news to the outraged attention of many:

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The fact-checking website Snopes has now confirmed the reports to be true.

Many people do not realize Puerto Rico is home to several medical manufacturing plants, and - according to a Food and Drug Administration analysis released last year - the industry is a significant part of the island's economy.

In fact, the medical product manufacturing sector in Puerto Rico provides an average of $800 million in local wages every year, according to FDA analysis.

But when Hurricane Maria devastated the island, it also took out several of these medical manufacturing plants, including Baxter International, the largest IV bag supplier in the U.S., which ships more than a million units of IV solutions a day.

And now, four months later, the impact is being felt by patients, health care providers and hospitals across the continental U.S.

The man responsible for the Twitter post Ben Boyer told Snopes he was surprised the information wasn't publicized sooner.

 

"Very soon after it started to spread I started seeing lots of nurses and medical professionals jumping on it and I realized that (a) it was a story most people didn't know about, and (b) it was clearly massively widespread and growing," he said.

With rising concerns over the issue, the FDA has assured the American people they are doing everything in their power to increase supplies, especially for IV saline shortages.                                                                                                       

"The FDA has been working very closely with industry and local and federal officials to help address the shortage situation for IV saline and other products as a result of Hurricane Maria," the FDA told Snopes on December 28.

"This remains a key area of focus for the agency and we expect that the shortage of IV fluids will improve in early 2018 based on the information we are receiving from the manufacturers."

One of the first steps the FDA has taken is to allow companies like Baxter priority access to the island territory's electrical grid.

This is an especially important step given only about 65 percent of the island currently has power, and full electricity probably won't be restored until May.

 

"We are also bringing additional units to the U.S. market through a recent permanent approval from the FDA for IVs produced in one of our North American manufacturing plants," said the company, who also clarified their production of specifally saline IV solutions does not take place in Puerto Rico and is therefore running normally.

"We expect to see this incremental supply benefitting current customers and providing us the opportunity to service other customers in the beginning of 2018."

In a follow-up statement in January, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he expects the shortage of IV saline fluids to improve early this year.