Bicillin – a common form of penicillin made by Pfizer and used to treat syphilis – is the latest antibiotic to face a shortage, prompting the drugmaker to recommend the use of an alternative, less convenient drug for patients who do not are pregnant.
In June, Pfizer announced the shortage of penicillin Bicillin AL and Bicillin CR due to an increase in syphilis cases and “competitive shortages”.
Food and Drug Administration’s list of drug shortages has Bicillin AL (generic name penicillin G benzathine) listed as “currently in short supply” and Bicillin CR (generic name penicillin G benzathine and penicillin G procaine) listed as “discontinued”.
Syphilis cases have been on the rise in the United States since 2000, with a 75% increase between 2017 and 2021, the last year data is available, according to to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cases were on the rise in parts of the US, such as Houston, which last month reported a 2021 syphilis outbreak responsible for a 128% increase in cases among women and another increase in congenital syphilis — when a mother passes the disease to her unborn child . child.
Other parts of the country have also seen increases: San Luis Obispo County in California posted one announcement says syphilis cases rose from 66 in 2019 to 99 in 2022, and in April, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services warned residents that syphilis cases increased by 28% from 2021 to 2022, with cases among women and congenital cases having the greatest impact.
Bicillin AL is the only approved treatment for infected pregnant women and is effective in preventing the disease from spreading to the unborn child, according to to the Virginia Department of Health.
To combat the shortage, the CDC recommend doctors prioritize pregnant patients and infants who are either infected or have been exposed and prescribe doxycycline to other patients.
However, Bloomberg reports doctors fear that patients won’t keep up with treatment, since doxycycline must be taken twice a day for at least two weeks, whereas Bicillin is a shot that is typically given only once.
176,713. That’s how many cases of syphilis were reported in the United States in 2021, according to the CDC data, up 32% from 2020. Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also increased during this time frame. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases all rose to a combined total of 2.5 million in 2021 from 2.4 million in 2020, although the rate at which syphilis and congenital syphilis cases rose was “particularly alarming” to researchers.
There is four stages of syphilis: primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, latent syphilis and late or tertiary syphilis. Symptoms and health problems get progressively worse with each stage, but the disease only progresses if left untreated. Syphilis is especially dangerous in pregnant women, who can potentially transmit the disease to the fetus results in case of abortion or severe disability. According to to the CDC, congenital syphilis cases have tripled in recent years, with 2021 seeing the highest number of cases since 1994. However, it is easily preventable and treatable if testing and treatment are done early.
Drug shortages increased by nearly 30% from 2021 to 2022, according to a March report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Bicilin is one of the newest additions to the long list of drug shortages. Amoxicillin, a common antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, has been in a lack since October 2022. According to to the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors began prescribing Bicillin as an alternative medicine to treat things like strep throat during amoxicillin deficiency. In its Bicillin shortage letter, Pfizer said this played a role in the Bicillin shortage in the form of “competitive shortage.” Popular weight loss and diabetes drugs Ozempic and Wegovy are also in short supply due to popular demand. Adderall, used to treat disorders such as narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has been in short supply since last October. On Tuesday, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration published a letter calls on stakeholders to address the additional shortfall “as soon as possible.”
Female and congenital syphilis cases skyrocket in Houston: Symptoms and how to stay safe (Forbes)
Wegovy Shortage: Drugmaker Limits Distribution – Here’s When Supplies Should Improve (Forbes)