At least 120,000 more fragile babies may be at risk each year from an ongoing shortage of injectable zinc, a trace element added to intravenous nutrition solutions, government and medical officials say.
"It's very frustrating," said Dr. Lamia Soghier, medical director of the neonatology unit at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "What can we do? We're just short. We don't have it. We can't borrow it."
The crisis is the latest in the nation's ongoing struggle with drug shortages. After federal intervention in 2012, the number of new shortages has fallen markedly, down to just 26 this year from a record high of 267 in 2011. But the number of active shortages of essential medications -- including injectable trace elements, vitamins and electrolytes -- is now 323, higher than it's ever been, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks the problem.
UPDATE 3/28/13: Emily Hartman from Children's National Medical Center contacted PNN to clarify the following: "While Dr. Soghier is quoted as saying "What can we do? We're just short. We don't have it. We can't borrow it," she is referring to when the original MMWR article on zinc shortages was written in December 2012. Children's was able to get an emergency supply soon after that original article was released and we're actually okay in terms of supply. We don't want our patients and families to worry that this is still a problem at Children's."
Image: Premature baby, via Shutterstock