Thousands of South Carolinians suffered from the flu over the holidays, and while local pharmacies say they've been able to keep a limited supply of drugs to prevent and reduce symptoms in stock, distributors are allocating the medicine carefully to ensure that there's enough to go around.
"The children's Tamiflu, which is the liquid, has been the hardest to find," said Michael Wise, who owns Herold's Pharmacy in West Ashley and North Charleston.
Prophylactics, like Tamiflu, are prescribed to reduce symptoms and to prevent diseases from taking hold. For sick patients, they are prescribed at the flu's first signs and for family members who may have been exposed but have shown no symptoms to date.
Wise said each of his pharmacies can order only five to 10 units of Tamiflu daily, even though they're doling out as many as 15 prescriptions on busy days.
"It could be zero one day and 10 to 15 the next," he said. "It's across the board."
At the Medical University of South Carolina, the pharmacy's supply is "sporadic."
"At this time, we do have supply, but the quantities are very limited," said MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine. "We are actively working with suppliers and the manufacturer to gain more stock. We will continue to provide Tamiflu to patients until our supply is exhausted."
Meanwhile, cases of the flu in South Carolina keep going up.
According to the state health department's recent flu report, the number of positive rapid antigen tests administered during the week ending Dec. 27 approached nearly 10,000 - more than twice as many as the same week last year. Nearly 500 people across the state were hospitalized last week and, to date this flu season, and 20 people in South Carolina have died from the flu.
Cases are particularly epidemic in the Midlands. The Walgreens Flu Index shows Columbia has the seventh-highest level of flu activity among metro areas in the country and South Carolina has the seventh-highest level of flu activity among all states.
Between Dec. 22 and Dec. 29, Walgreens says South Carolina, and Columbia, in particular, experienced the third-highest gains in flu activity in the United States. The pharmacy's index is calculated by tracking weekly retail prescription data for antiviral medications.