Four infants are hospitalised in South Carolina over baby formula shortage

First military planes bringing formula from Europe will land in US this weekend as parents across the country are forced to turn to alternative products for infants with allergies and intolerances

Rachel Sharp
Sunday 22 May 2022 17:07
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At least four babies have been hospitalised in South Carolina because of America’s baby formula shortage as the first military flights bringing emergency supplies from Europe will land in the US this weekend.

An official at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston said the hospital is treating babies either because homemade formulas have made them sick, or because they are not tolerant of new formulas that their parents have been forced to use as a substitute.

MUSC spokesperson Heather Woolwine told The State that many of the children have “complex health conditions including nutrition”.

She said it was hard to pinpoint an exact number who have required treatment but she could think of at least four to date whose illnesses are tied to the formula shortage.

Paediatric dieticians at the hospital are now “working with the individual child’s care team to find a formula or nutrition that works for him or her based on allergy and caloric needs”, she said.

While parents across the country are scrambling to get their hands on limited supplies of baby formula amid the nationwide crisis, those with infants who have allergies and intolerances face an added dilemma.

Many have been forced to use alternative products in order to feed their children and several babies have become sick and hospitalised as a result.

Several children’s hospitals across the country have reported babies being admitted due to the formula shortage.

In Memphis, a doctor said this week that he had treated two children as a direct result of the formula shortage.

Dr Mark Corkins, a paediatric gastroenterologist at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, told Action News that both children had intestinal conditions which require them to be fed a particular kind of formula.

They both reacted badly when their parents were unable find the required formula and were now being treated with IV fluid and extra nutrition at the hospital, he said.

Over in Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee, hospital officials said several babies had been brought into its emergency room for malnutrition.

“We are seeing more kids where inappropriate substitutions of formula is a factor in their hospitalisation,” a spokesperson told local outlet TMJ4.

This weekend, the first planes bringing formula from Europe will land in Indiana as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to get much-needed supply to American families.

The White House announced on Friday that 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula would be flown from Germany to the US this weekend.

A further 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula will arrive in the coming days, with around 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas slated to arrive this week.

Military planes will fly the formula as part of “Operation Fly Formula”.

As well as flying formula in from overseas, the president has also invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ramp up production in the US.

This comes as the shortage reached crisis levels with parents left desperately scrambling to try to feed their infants and some forced to fork out around $100 for a single can online.

In the week ending 8 May, a staggering 43 per cent of the top-selling baby formula were out of stock across US retailers, according to analysis from Datasembly.

This time last year, Datasembly found that out-of-stock levels fluctuated between just 2 and 8 per cent.

The shortage was fuelled by the February shutdown of Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which is the largest manufacturer of baby formula in the US.

All production has been halted at the facility for the last three months and three of its products were voluntarily recalled after two babies died and at least four others were hospitalised with bacterial infections after consuming the formula produced in the factory.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an investigation and warned parents not to use certain Similac, Alimentum and EleCare products.

It is not yet clear if the bacteria came from the plant.

Abbott said in a statement that none of its products were positive for Cronobacter sakazakii or Salmonella and that a review had indicated that the formula produced at its Sturgis facility “is not likely the source of infection in the reported cases and that there was not an outbreak caused by products from the facility”.

The FDA is yet to release its findings from the investigation.

The agency and Abbott have said they are working to restart manufacturing at the plant as soon as possible.

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