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UAB Hospital activates plan to address global IV contrast shortage

  • May 07, 2022

Due to COVID-19 shutdowns in Shanghai, China, the global supply of intravenous contrast has decreased.

CT ImagingCOVID-19 shutdowns in Shanghai, China, have caused a significant global shortage of intravenous contrast used in imaging procedures like enhanced X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. IV contrast is also used in procedures where the dye helps show the anatomy; with a heart catheterization, the contrast makes the blood “light up” as it passes through the heart so a physician can see blood flow.

The IV contrast shortage is expected to last through at least June 30. 

Hospitals worldwide are bracing for effects the shortage will have on patient care. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System has activated a response to aggressively ration supplies of IV contrast to mitigate the threat. 

These efforts will require postponing certain elective imaging procedures, says UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine Dean and UAB Health System CEO Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., and affected UAB Medicine patients will be notified.

“We need to make sure we have IV contrast available for the patients in critical need,” Vickers said. “This global shortage will cause disruptions for patients worldwide; that is unavoidable given the lack of suppliers outside of China. Our focus will be to make every effort to have IV contrast in life-or-death matters. We have asked all Radiology and procedural areas that utilize IV contrast to prioritize only essential urgent and emergent imaging/procedures and adopt mitigation strategies to reduce utilization until further notice.” 

Alternatives including initial non-contrasted imaging — which may require repeat imaging later — are being considered when appropriate, and UAB Medicine is working to identify possible other sources for IV contrast. But not every imaging/procedure offers an alternative. 

“We have contacted additional vendors and reached out to other facilities to procure IV contrast, but this is truly a global shortage,” Vickers said. “We will continue to look for options to minimize disruption for our patients, but we expect disruptions to be significant around the world.”