Pharmacists Scramble To Fill Prescriptions As New Orleans Gets A Dose Of The Flu

NEW ORLEANS – For many in New Orleans, it’s going to be a happy flu year.

Urgent care facilities and pharmacists are reporting a high number of influenza cases this year, especially the week surrounding Christmas. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports an influenza spike for Louisiana for the week of Dec. 10-16, 2017.

It’s resulted in a high demand for the prescription Tamiflu, used to treat influenza.

“Tamiflu has been flying off the shelf,” said Al Spitale, a pharmacist at Majoria Drugs in Metairie. “It wasn’t a problem keeping it in stock until last week. We didn’t anticipate the quick surge of people who caught it this year.”

Due to a higher demand and shipping issues, Majoria Drugs ran out of Tamiflu on Tuesday, the day after Christmas, but is expecting a wholesaler from Jackson, Mississippi to restock supplies Wednesday afternoon in both liquid and capsule forms.

"Up until the last week or ten days ago, we didn’t see a lot of the flu, but then it surged,” Spitale said. “It’s one of those medications that you don’t want to wait to take it; the sooner you take it the more effective it is,” he said.

Spitale said Majoria gave customers all the Tamiflu it had in stock to get them started on the medication and will fill the remaining prescriptions when the new supply comes in, including dropping off medication to customers’ homes.

“We have a number of patients who started on a portion. We just want to make it as easy as possible, especially with this cold wet weather,” he said.

Spitale said the CDC had predicted that Louisiana would be hit hard with the flu this year and instructed people to get vaccines as soon as possible. The CDC reports that influenza is now categorized as “widespread” problem in the state of Louisiana. 

Chip Carriere, practice manager for Rapid Urgent Care with five locations in New Orleans, the Northshore, Baton Rouge and Metairie, said over the past ten days, the urgent care centers have seen up to 80 patients a day, with two-thirds experiencing flu symptoms.

“The volume of patients coming in has almost doubled,” Carriere said. “It’s crazy the amount of people we’ve seen over the last seven days, even on Christmas Day. Last year, we had the ‘B strain’ that was the most common. This year’s it’s both strains.”

Carriere said the test for influenza is a nasal swab that uses a molecular test.

“Among our centers, the flu hit first on the Northshore and it’s making its way across the Causeway,” he said. “In Metairie yesterday, there were 50 patients, and half had the flu,” he said.

People are urged to wash their hands regularly to prevent the spread of the virus and to limit contact with those who are infected.

Over-the-counter medications give symptomatic relief for things like a congested head or a cough that goes with the flu, but it is a virus, and the only thing is an anti-viral product that’s going to get to the root of the problem," Spitale said.

-By Jenny Peterson, Associate New Editor, Biz New Orleans

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