Can't find children's cold and flu medication at stores? Here's what you can do instead

The shortage of these medications comes amid the so-called "tripledemic" of RSV, COVID-19 and the flu.

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
What to do if you can't find kids' cold, flu medicine at stores
Can't find children's Tylenol or Advil at drugstores? Here's what you can give your kid instead as flu and COVID cases rage nationwide.

MARIN, Calif. (KGO) -- As anyone who's gone drugstore to drugstore the past few days can tell you, getting your hands on Children's Tylenol right now is nearly impossible.

ABC7 News went to a CVS, a Walgreens and a Rite-Aid in Marin County on Tuesday where it was all the same story: cleared out shelves where the Children's Tylenol would usually be, with just a few boxes of generic brand pain relief left.

"There's definitely a shortage in over-the-counter children's Tylenol and pediatric formulations for ibuprofen, cold medicines," UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong told ABC7 News, "And we've been hearing this all over the country."

The shortage of these medications comes amid the so-called "tripledemic" of RSV, COVID-19 and the flu. Marin County Public Health Director Dr. Matt Willis said COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county have doubled in the past month. And for the flu, it's even more dramatic. The county has the highest rates of flu they've ever seen.

"We've never seen this level of influenza this early in the season," Dr. Willis said. "One in four people who are having flu-like symptoms who get tested in Marin are in fact infected with influenza."

"That's the highest percent positivity we've ever seen," he explained, "And we're also seeing a 20-fold increase in our wastewater level for flu."

MORE: Flu, COVID cases surging in CA; CDC suggests masking indoors to minimize spread

So, all that to say: that's why so many medications are now sold out for both adults -- and specifically children.

"It really speaks to the fact that we're not really good as a country for determining, before it gets short, when things are on the verge of getting short," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "So nobody says, hey gederal government there's an increase in order of these particular drugs, so somebody can take something out of the stockpile."

"But there are people working on trying to make this not happen as it is happening this year," he explained.

Until then, what should you do if you can't get Children's Tylenol or a similar generic brand?

"If you have any questions, talk to the pharmacist but there are other tricks that people can use as well like taking 200mg or an adult form, and depending on the size of the kid, mixing it, crushing, mixing it with chocolate milk," he said.

VIDEO: Doctors decode the differences between RSV, flu and COVID

Flu, COVID and RSV are all viruses that may all seem like the common cold at first, but there are slight differences that can help parents get a sense of what is going on.

"But if the kid is smaller, you definitely want to talk to the pharmacist, but there are lots of tricks that can help parents with when there's no official Children's Tylenol available."

Chin-Hong said another tip if a child as a low fever, is to use a cool towel or cold compress, or even a fan.

"That's what we use in the hospital when people have a heatstroke for example, so it does work to reduce the temperature by evaporation," he said. "These are minor interventions that don't require medicines if the fever is mild."

"But again, if the fever is high and it's not getting better with some of these interventions, don't be afraid to take the kid in."

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