Doctors see shortage of rapid flu tests, antiviral medicine in East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Waiting rooms are filled with people who are showing signs of the flu. Some East Tennessee doctors say they are running out of rapid flu tests because of the increased demand.

Physician's assistant Jennifer Nash with Summit Medical Group is testing dozens of patients daily for the flu. It's easy to detect and the rapid test only takes a couple of minutes. 

"We have to stick a swab, similar to a strep test that goes in your throat, but we stick it in both nostrils," said Nash. 

Because too many people are sick this year, there's a back order on the testing kits. 

Nash adds, "We're still having issues getting the test and in and having enough for the patients that we're seeing."

Summit Express Clinic in Fountain City is seeing up to 50 patients a day with flu-like symptoms. Currently there are only about 100 kits available in the office.

"We fortunately received a partial order yesterday, actually. But the full order wasn't available and all of our clinics did not get the orders. So we are having them trickle in, getting them here and there," said Nash. 

While the tests make it easier for doctors to detect the flu, Nash says she doesn't rely on the kits to diagnose her patients. 

"It's a manmade test. There's errors with actually doing the test, so actually getting the nasal swab if we don't get a good sample, it's just human error," said Nash. 

If she recognizes the symptoms and signs for the flu, she'll prescribe an antivirus medication. 

"If it's withing the first 48 hours especially, we're getting them started on Tamiflu," said Nash. 

Belew Drug has seen some low supply for the medicine. Pharmacy manager Brandon Lock says they just received more Tamiflu this week because of high demand. 

"There's a lot of people calling and arriving, worried that they have the flu, asking if their symptoms are the flu. Asking for help with symptom relief," said Lock. 

That's why Lock says it's crucial to see your doctor this season, if you think you may have the flu.  

"If we are to give Tamiflu to people who aren't flu positive, we're wasting the supply of that drug and it can cause a premature shortage," said Lock. 

The Tennessee Department of Health and East Tennessee Children's Hospital both say its facilities have not experienced a shortage of Tamiflu or rapid flu tests. 

Health officials recommend getting the flu shot. The number of people showing up sick isn't stopping anytime soon. Doctors say it's not too late to get vaccinated, because flu season can last into May.


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