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Doctors ration penicillin amid syphilis epidemic peak

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  • Penicillin rationed amid syphilis surge
  • Shortages exacerbate U.S. health crisis
  • Dating apps, condom use linked

Penicillin is being rationed by some physicians due to the alarming syphilis epidemic ravaging the United States.

National rates for the sexually transmitted disease have reached a seventy-year high, with cases increasing by over 2,000 percent from 6,862 in 2002 to 203,500 in 2022.

The situation was exacerbated during the previous spring due to a scarcity of penicillin injections. Which are the primary therapeutic option for the sexually transmitted disease.

As it is the only safe treatment for expectant patients with syphilis, public health agencies have advised providers to ration the drug and reserve it for them in light of the ongoing shortage.

Infants delivered to mothers who are infected may develop deformities or a fatal condition.

However, the implementation of rationing coincides with a more extensive scarcity of medications in the United States, as numerous children have been admitted to hospitals with colds and flu after their immune systems were compromised by lockdowns.

Penicillin is prescribed for the treatment of bacterial infections, including syphilis, meningitis, pneumonia, and gonorrhoea.

Penicillin Shortage and Health Implications

The United States filled 46.4 million prescriptions for penicillin in 2021, which is equivalent to 127,123 per day.

Rationing might prevent thousands of Americans from receiving pharyngeal, meningitis, and other bacterial infection therapy.

Antibiotics doxycycline and injectable penicillin are both utilised in the treatment of syphilis.

The World Health Organisation advises against the use of doxycycline during pregnancy. This is due to its potential to induce malformations of the bones and dentition in infants.

Mark Turrentine, an obstetrician-gynaecologist based in Houston, reported to KFF Health News that he began receiving advisories regarding the scarcity of injectable penicillin in April, which coincided with the difficulty in obtaining the antibiotic amoxicillin.

A surge in respiratory maladies in 2022 compelled drugstore chains to impose temporary restrictions on the procurement of fever-reducing medications intended for children. This action subsequently played a role in the scarcity of amoxicillin, a tablet form of the chemically modified penicillin antibiotic.

The ‘explosion’ of dating apps like Hinge and Bumble and casual encounters has contributed to the syphilis pandemic.

Experts say American men have used fewer condoms by roughly 30% since 2011.

To contain the syphilis outbreak, the CDC advised doctors to be attentive and ask about the condition during pregnancy today.

Syphilis Spike Strains Penicillin Supply

The government recommended serologic syphilis testing, which checks blood for antibodies.

In a letter to customers dated June 2023, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Bicillin, a long-acting injectable form of the antibiotic penicillin, attributed the shortage to “significant increases in demand” caused by “an increase in syphilis infection rates.”

Associate chief pharmacy officer for the University of Utah health system, Erin Fox, told KFF that although penicillin is not a novel medication, its production is complicated due to the high number of individuals who are allergic to it.

She stated, “That means no other medications can be produced on that line.”

“It does not inherently guarantee efficiency or profitability.”

Pharmaceutical behemoths such as Pfizer are the only ones with the means to manage a specialised, distinct facility.

Pfizer stated in a statement that demand for penicillin injections had increased by approximately 70%.

However, family medicine practitioner Dr Stephen Miller of Chattanooga, Tennessee, stated that his clinic is currently compelled to devise a strategy.

Costly Penicillin and Rising Syphilis Rates

The price of a single penicillin injection can reach several hundred dollars. It also has a 48-month expiration date and must be stored in the refrigerator.

The National Coalition of STD Directors has characterised the STD epidemic as “out of control,” and Tennessee has been struck especially hard, with syphilis infection rates increasing by 86 percent between 2017 and 2021.

Syphilis, a bacterial infection, is spread by oral or pubic sores.

Within three to four weeks of an infection, symptoms may go unrecognised or misinterpreted as heat rash or minor abrasions.

A third phase may occur when the ulcer heals and a week-long rash appears.

Patients run the risk of the disease spreading to the brain and spinal cord in the absence of treatment. This can result in complications such as stroke, meningitis (inflammation of the brain’s protective linings), migraines, and meninges.

When a mother transmits congenital syphilis to her prenatal child, the condition can manifest as stillbirth, miscarriage, or birth defects.

Surging Congenital Syphilis and Drug Shortages

In 2022, the incidence of congenital syphilis increased by a factor of ten, from 3,755 cases nationwide a decade prior to that date.

Between 2018 and 2022, infant cases increased by 183%. In November, the CDC published a report attributing the rise to inadequate “treatment during pregnancy.”

According to him, physicians were substituting penicillin, which may have contributed to the shortage.

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In the interim, a report from the previous month cautioned that debilitating drug shortages have affected one in every five Americans.

Natural disasters, manufacturing problems, and supply chain disruptions have all impeded patients’ access to critical medical care, including medications used to treat type 2 diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer.
Based on a report by ValuePenguin.com, an insurance subsidiary of LendingTree, the current medical shortages could potentially be attributed to the repercussions of the multitude of supply-chain issues that afflicted 2022.

Manufacturing industry declines that were unprecedented were almost certainly precipitated by the pandemic. Additionally, Covid has increased the demand for a wide variety of equipment and medications, including Paxlovid and N95 masks.

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