Children's Tamiflu in short supply as flu season ramps up

 A woman presents a box of antiviral medication Tamiflu on July 22, 2009 in a pharmacy in Paris.

The liquid version of Tamiflu, one of the top treatments given to children battling the flu, is already reaching low quantities during this year's flu season.

"There has been strong and early demand for Tamiflu Oral Suspension (OS) and we are experiencing a temporary delay in the packaging of Tamiflu OS," said Tara Iannuccillo, a spokeswoman for Roche Holding AG's Genentech unit which manufactures the drug and uses distributors to supply retail pharmacies with the product.

"A brief shortage of OS is expected through mid-January. We may be unable to fill complete orders from distributors for a limited time," Iannuccillo added.

Tamiflu is used to reduce the severity of the flu when taken at the outset of symptoms. The oral suspension of the drug is primarily prescribed for children under the age of 13 and for people who have difficulty swallowing. It can be given to anyone older than 2 weeks old.

The delay in packaging of the liquid version has not impacted supplies of regular Tamiflu 75 milligram capsules, Genentech said.

The flu is spreading quickly this season, with 25 states already widespread disease activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the cases have been linked to the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as the swine flu, that caused a pandemic in 2009.

Thousands of people die every year from flu, which typically peaks in the U.S. between the months of October and March. This season's virus has killed six children so far, according to CDC data. During the 2009 to 2010 season, H1N1 was responsible for killing 284,000 people worldwide.

Roche said it expects to have additional supply of Tamiflu OS available in mid-January.

"We expect that these new supplies should meet demand for OS overall and we will continue to receive and ship out new supplies of Tamiflu OS and capsules throughout the flu season," Iannuccillo said.

If the drug is unavailable in a particular area during the shortage, pharmacists can mix the capsule form into a liquid formula for those who need it.

Parents can also give children over the age of 1 the 30 or 45 mg capsules mixed with a viscous, sweetened substance, the Food and Drug Administration advised. But, a medical doctor should advise parents on the correct dosage before they give it to their child.

Meanwhile, the CDC is recommending that people continue to get flu shots to prevent the virus.

"We are seeing a big uptick in disease in the past couple of weeks," Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of Epidemiology and Prevention in the CDC's Influenza Division, said last week.

"There is still a lot of season to come. If folks haven't been vaccinated, we recommend they do it now," he said.