Respiratory drug in short supply at pediatric hospitals battling virus

Sick teen
Sixteen-year-old Cole Kaspar, a junior at Wayzata High School, receives continuous respiratory assistance on Friday at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. With him is his mother Christine Kaspar.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

A drug that helps ease labored breathing is in short supply at some Minnesota pediatric hospitals.

The national outbreak of Enterovirus D68 has drained hospital supplies of albuterol in its concentrated form, which is used to give some kids continuous vapor medication treatments.

Sick child
Tim Flannery, right, reads a Curious George story to his 2-year-old son Landon Flannery on Friday at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. Landon Flannery was having trouble breathing and is now receiving continuous respiratory assistance.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

The shortage doesn't apply to rescue inhalers, or even those small liquid tubes of albuterol that parents use to nebulize young children.

Related: 5 things to know about the shortage

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Still, it's a concern, said Roxanne Fernandes chief nursing officer at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

"Right now between our two hospitals we have about a two-and-a-half day supply, so our physicians and our pharmacists are looking for alternatives," she said. "We have also requested emergency shipments and I know our pharmacy has a call today with a large pharmaceutical company to see if they can't get some more of this drug."

There are alternative medications that can be used, but Fernandes said albuterol is the drug of choice because it's very effective and easy to use.

Enterovirus D68 is an uncommon virus that has sickened children in at least a dozen Midwest states and appears to be hitting Minnesota. State health officials, however, have not yet confirmed its presence.

Hospitals in the Twin Cities area have been exceptionally busy treating patients with severe respiratory problems that match the symptoms associated with the virus.