There is a nationwide shortage of a critical breathing medicine after demand for the liquid has doubled in the last month due to a sharp surge of a potentially deadly winter virus.
Demand for the Prednisolone oral liquid has skyrocketed from 8500 bottles a month to 15,500 bottles in June due to multiple respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) outbreaks, Sarah Fitt, the boss of New Zealand's drug buying agency Pharmac told the Herald.
Prednisolone, also known as Redipred, is a steroid medication used to treat inflammation for conditions such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses like RSV.
While it's available for adults in tablets, the liquid is mainly used to treat children.
The medicine shortage comes as hospitals across the country have been postponing surgeries and creating extra bed space for children to deal with the spread of RSV.
Dozens of children were battling the highly contagious winter virus in intensive care units around the country.
Meanwhile, Fitt said stock for prednisolone quickly needed to be replaced and a new order was expected to arrive in New Zealand today.
"Pharmac has been working closely with the supplier of prednisolone, Mfat and Customs to ensure this process is undertaken as quickly as possible, and this medicine is available to pharmacies later this week at the earliest."
She said they were also working with the supplier to airfreight the next order to New Zealand before the end of this month.
"We are working with the supplier who has increased ordering levels to ensure an increased amount of prednisolone oral liquid is delivered over the coming months so we have enough of this medicine, now and in the future," Fitt said.
Children in ICU
Twelve of the country's 20 district health boards said 34 children were being cared for in intensive care or high dependency units with RSV or other respiratory-type illnesses.
As of Monday, a Starship children's hospital spokeswoman confirmed 12 children were in its paediatric intensive care unit with RSV.
On Friday, 22 children were in intensive care or high dependency units with RSV across 11 of the country's 20 district health boards.
Wellington Regional Hospital had 26 children in the wards with RSV and respiratory-type illnesses who did not need to be in intensive care, while Hutt Hospital had 13 last week.
Numbers of children in hospitals ICUs as of July 12:
• Northland - 0
• Auckland (Starship) - 12
• Counties Manukau - Unable to provide figures
• Waitemata - Children sent to Starship if they needed NICU or PICU care
• Waikato - 5
• Lakes - 2
• Tairawhiti - 2
• Taranaki - 3
• Hawkes Bay - 4
• Capital and Coast - 4
• Hutt Valley - none
• Nelson Marlborough - 0
• Wairarapa - 2
• Canterbury - Unable to provide figures
• Southern - 0
Death after RSV complication
A 63-year-old north Auckland woman with a "beautiful smile" died last Wednesday morning after contracting RSV.
The mum and community advocate took her final breath at her Stanmore Bay home after being discharged from North Shore Hospital on Monday.
It is unclear if it was the highly contagious virus that killed her as she was battling other health conditions.
"We are still waiting for the details of the post-mortem," her partner who asked not to be named said.
A spokesman for the Coroner's office said he could confirm the death had been referred to the coroner.
"Cause of death is undetermined, pending further testing," he said.
What is RSV?
• Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.
• It's so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2, but it can also infect adults.
• Symptoms are usually mild and typically mimic a common cold but they cause a severe infection in babies - especially premature infants and elderly or those with weak immune systems.