Necessary dye to operate CT scans facing significant shortage

May 11, 2022, 7:03 AM
(Photo by: Pascal Bachelet/BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)...
(Photo by: Pascal Bachelet/BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Pascal Bachelet/BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The lockdowns in China are causing a shortage of an important dye used in CT scans.

The majority of the dye that is used in the U.S. is produced in China, but that production has been disrupted by the lockdowns. This has caused a shortage of the contrast agent at hospitals throughout the nation.

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Dr. Dushyant Sahani, chair of the Radiology Department at UW Medicine, says the dye, also known as the contrast agent, provides more clarity in a CT scan, so a doctor can more accurately identify where the problem is. He says contrast agents are necessary for the majority of CT scans.

“90 percent of the manufacturing is performed in Shanghai … which supplies the contrast agent to the U.S.,” Sahani said. “And because of the lockdown in Shanghai in April, it has impacted the production of this contrast agent.”

Shanghai is further tightening its lockdown measures after General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping pledged to “unswervingly” double down on the country’s zero-COVID policy, despite COVID cases becoming fewer and fewer.

This decision and lockdown has left millions confined to their homes until further notice.

“While the plants are reportedly at full production again, the shutdown has resulted in a shortage that could affect hospitals into July,” said a representative of the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) in an interview with KIRO-TV. “Providence Swedish system, which includes Olympia’s Providence Saint Peter Hospital, said its stores of contrast are at “critical” levels. GE provides approximately 97 percent of its iodine-based contrast.”

Approximately 60% of CT scans use a contrast agent to differentiate between organs and detect lesions, according to UWMC. The same iodine contrast is used in other procedures such as angiograms.

UW Medicine is prioritizing patients, so those with the most serious conditions get CT scans with the dye first. Oncology patients are always on that list. Elective surgeries may not all get scans right away.
Other patients are getting MRIs, which don’t require dye, or getting less-clear CT scans without the dye.

The hope is that production will be back to normal by the end of May. In the meantime, UW has enough supply for a few weeks, and is cautiously optimistic.

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Necessary dye to operate CT scans facing significant shortage