Children’s Tylenol and Motrin have become harder to find at stores across northern Illinois, but one pediatrician asks parents of small children picking up the over-the-counter painkillers to buy only what they need and not hoard the drugs.
Hearing that acetaminophen and ibuprofen have become scarce, Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital Dr. Sara Qazi said she went to a local Walgreens to look at the shelves herself.
“It was empty. No Tylenol, no Motrin. There was no generic for acetaminophen and one generic for ibuprofen,” Qazi said of the children’s varieties of the drugs.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the two most-common medicines for treating babies and children with fevers or other illnesses at home. The Food and Drug Administration has not released an alert of any official shortage or recall.
Johnson & Johnson, the maker of both Children’s Tylenol and Children’s Motrin, is not experiencing widespread shortages of the two brands, spokeswoman Melissa Witt said in an email, but are experiencing high consumer demand “driven by an extremely challenging cold and flu season.”
“We recognize this may be challenging for parents and caregivers, and are doing everything we can to make sure people have access to the products they need, including maximizing our production capacity, running our sites 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and continuously shipping out product,” she said.
It’s not just McHenry County consumers seeing bare shelves.
Morris Hospital currently has less fever reducers for children in stock than is customary, hospital spokesperson Janet Long said.
“Normally, we have more supplies on hand,” Long said. “But it has not affected our ability to provide treatment for patients.”
Frank M. Butler, administrative director of pharmacy services at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, said he’s had trouble getting certain children’s fever reducers.
“We still have it in stock and are able to treat our patients,” Butler said. “But the market is definitely tight. If you go to various community drug stores, a lot of shelves are empty.”
Around the country, stores have reported having less of the anti-inflammatory drugs available as viruses and respiratory illnesses hit young patients.
Chad Kodiak, owner of KODOCARE Pharmacy in Joliet, said KODOCARE’s primary population is adults, especially seniors and developmentally disabled adults, so it doesn’t carry a lot of over-the-counter medications for children.
“But there’s definitely a shortage,” Kodiak said. “And it’s definitely hard to get.”
If parents can’t find the drugs, they should not give the adult versions of the drugs to their children, ever, and consider a generic or store brand of either drug, Qazi said.
They also can give babies and children cool sponge baths on the heat centers of their bodies, including armpits and the groin area, to help bring down fevers, Qazi said.
But if the child starts to run a fever of more than 100.5 degrees, that is when they might want more intervention, she said.
“If they are under two months and have a fever, they should be seen by a doctor,” Qazi said.
If the baby is older than two months and is not showing respiratory distress, then parents can wait about 24 hours and see how the baby does before going to a doctor, she said.
She also warned parents to keep an eye on how quickly a temperature develops. “If the temperature goes from 98 to 104 in a short time, the seizure threshold is triggered,” she said, adding she has “seen too many of those to count.”
As a pediatrician practicing in-hospital medicine, Qazi does not see the babies when they come with a fever and a runny nose, but when things have gotten bad.
“I only see the very, very sick kids. I don’t see them in the clinic,” Qazi said.
Qazi also has seen the results of what some medical professionals are calling the “tridemic.” Babies and children are presenting with high fevers and respiratory distress from COVID-19, influenza or respiratory syncytial virus, known commonly as RSV.
Up until about 10 days ago, she was mostly seeing children with the dual diagnosis of RSV and COVID-19. Now, Influenza A also is presenting, often combined with one of the other two viruses, Qazi said.
Butler said empty shelves might be due to high use of fever reducers for the flu and RSV, although he wouldn’t rule out production issues, either. He said hospitals run into drug shortages all the time.
“But we have strategies in place to take care of our patients,” Butler said.
There also is a “big shortage” of pediatric intensive care unit beds in Illinois, Qazi said. The Huntley doctor said she has had to send children to Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky because beds were not available here.
Parents can help prevent these infections by following masking protocols, practicing good hand hygiene, and getting children over six months old vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu, she said.
When older siblings arrive home from school, parents should have them both wash their hands and change their shirts. The RSV virus can live on surfaces for several hours outside the human body, she said.