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Record Flu Season Causes Face Mask Supply Worries



The CDC is warning that the tough 2018 flu season hasn’t peaked yet, but some health systems are already seeking new sources for flu-related medical supplies.


Face masks are a critical part of responding to a flu outbreak. Symptomatic patients, their family members, and their providers are advised to use disposable pleated face masks, along with hand washing and vaccination, to prevent the spread of flu.


But will health systems have enough masks on-hand to protect patients and providers? In our conversations with health system supply chain leaders, we’re hearing early concerns about face mask stock levels:

  • At least one major distributor is allocating stock in a large metro area

  • Texas retail pharmacies report stock backorders

  • Some supply chain leaders at large IDNs are experiencing low inventory

  • Many supply chain leaders are working now to backfill reserve inventory in anticipation of more flu cases to come

The H1N1 flu pandemic of 2008/2009 exposed weakness in the supply chain for face masks, and revealed the complexities of maintaining strategic national reserves. Most health system supply chain leaders want the security of adequate stock levels in their own organizations, and work quickly to replenish local reserve stock as it is used.


This year’s flu season started early and ramped up in intensity rapidly, with 1 out of every 13 doctor visits attributed to flu symptoms. Flu activity typically peaks in January, but this year, activity has continued to climb into early February. Even if the US experiences its peak flu activity week soon, experts say to expect another 13 weeks of flu cases as the season winds down.


For supply chain leaders, this long and intense flu season will require careful stock management and diversification of their suppliers, to ensure that essential products are available well into the spring. Supply chain leaders should plan to support flu volume on top of routine volume until May 2018, so monitor stock levels closely.


ASP Global’s direct sourcing model lets us help ensure continuous supply of face masks and other PPE supplies to our health system customers. Please contact us at info@aspglobal.com if we can help supply you with high-quality face masks or other clinical supplies.

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