By JoNel Aleccia, Senior Writer, NBC News
A vital drug used to help feed the tiniest babies is in such short supply that at least seven extremely premature infants in the U.S. developed horrifying skin lesions and life-threatening reactions after their hospitals ran out.
At least 120,000 more fragile babies may be at risk each year from an ongoing shortage of injectable zinc, a trace element added to intravenous nutrition solutions, government and medical officials say.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Dr. Lamia Soghier, medical director of the neonatology unit at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “What can we do? We’re just short. We don’t have it. We can’t borrow it.”
The crisis is the latest in the nation’s ongoing struggle with drug shortages. After federal intervention in 2012, the number of new shortages has fallen markedly, down to just 26 this year from a record high of 267 in 2011. But the number of active shortages of essential medications — including injectable trace elements, vitamins and electrolytes — is now 323, higher than it’s ever been, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks the problem.
Last December, three very premature infants at Soghier’s hospital, all born at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy — suddenly developed severe diaper rash, skin erosions around their mouths and blistering lesions on their hands and feet, according to a recent CDC report.
Prospective parents can add these foods to their diet, before they conceive, to ensure their infant has enough zinc: Oysters, Salmon, Pumpkin seeds, Squash seeds, Dark Chocolate, Garlic, Sesame Seeds , Watermelon seeds, Wheat germ, Chickpeas, Shrimp, Crab, Organic Beef, Beef Liver, Lima beans, Egg yolks , Mushrooms, Turkey, Lobster, Spinach, Lamb, Kidney beans, Peanuts, Tahini , Flax seeds, Pork, Brewers Yeast, and Brown rice.
While we do not encourage the consumption of organ meats or pork products, these food choices are high in zinc.
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