South Korean drugmakers are in a rush to mass-produce antipyretics and antibiotics to keep pace with demand for medicines amid the rise in cases of mycoplasma pneumonia -- a bacterium that causes respiratory infections -- and flu viruses during the winter.
To avoid a medicine shortage, Daewon Pharmaceutical has started boosting the production of fever medicines and antibiotics, according to reports on Wednesday citing pharmaceutical industry insiders.
Hanmi Pharmaceutical, another leading drugmaker, is also preparing to produce more medicines such as fever reducers and sell them in large quantities to meet market demand.
Industry insiders believe the spike in respiratory illnesses created a surge in demand, as over-the-counter remedies can help patients recover from infections faster if started early on.
Mycoplasma pneumonia is a type of common bacterial infection that can spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also called “walking pneumonia” for being relatively mild and not necessarily requiring hospitalization or bed rest. Currently it is classified at level four, the lowest in the country’s four-tier infection classification system.
The pathogen can linger in the nose and throat without making a person ill, but can develop into pneumonia if it spreads to the lungs. Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics without first testing to find the cause.
Young children under the age of five can develop cold-like symptoms, such as vomiting, sore throat and sneezing. They are also more prone to severe cases that progress to pneumonia if their immune systems are weak or have never been exposed to the bacterium. Older kids and adults could report symptoms like headaches, fatigue or a worsening cough lasting for several weeks.
In line with growing concerns over the uptick in the pneumonia outbreak and the seasonal illness, Ildong Pharmaceutical said it is also mulling whether to increase the production of medications and expand its availability for coughing and sneezing populations.
Korea United Pharm. Inc., a local pharmaceuticals producer, said that the company’s antibiotic production has increased by some 20 percent since October. Its production of expectorants and antitussives, more commonly known as cough suppressants, rose by about 15 percent in the same period, driven by increased demand.
Medication sales have been strong for some companies. Dong-A Pharmaceutical’s profit for fever reducer medicine for children stood at 423 million won ($322,000), a threefold increase from 152 million won in August, reflecting the spread of the illness during the fall-winter period.
Meanwhile, a total of 270 patients were hospitalized for mycoplasma pneumonia infections during the fourth week of November, up 97 from the first week’s 173, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday.
The patient illness rate for those who showed influenza-like symptoms was 45.8 from Nov. 19-25, the KCDC added.
A wave of childhood pneumonia infections struck China in September, with the average number of child patients recorded between 1,600 and 1,800 in Beijing, the neighboring country’s capital city. The illness has recently been detected in Indonesia, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.