The Korea Herald


Demand for cold medicines soar as seasonal flu persists

By Shim Woo-hyun

Published : May 23, 2023 - 16:52

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Demand for cold medicines has increased recently, as the seasonal flu has continued longer than usual. With the spurt in cold and flu cases, sales of cold medicines have increased while some pharmacies face shortages, according to data from the government and local pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday.

“Demand for over-the-counter cold medicines seems to be higher than usual, and some prescription medications for cold and flu are difficult to get,” a pharmacist operating a pharmacy in central Seoul said.

According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s latest data, the ratio of patients who were diagnosed with or suspected of having seasonal influenza in the 19th week of this year was the highest in the recent four years.

The ratio of patients with influenza symptoms in the 19th week of the year -- May 7-13 -- came to 23.4 per 1,000. The figure was significantly higher than the numbers marked in the 19th week of the past three years during the COVID-19 pandemic: 2 per 1,000 in 2022 and 2.1 in both 2021 and 2020.

Even in 2019, the last major flu year before the pandemic, the ratio was down to 15.1 per 1,000 in the 19th week of the year, as the weather warmed up.

As influenza and the common cold have not loosened their grip, some pharmaceutical companies have seen increases in sales of over-the-counter cold medicines.

Dongwha Pharmaceutical said its sales of cold medicine Pancold increased 32.4 percent on-year to reach 14.7 billion won ($11.2 million) in the first quarter, an all-time high in sales for the first quarter.

Dong-A Pharmaceutical also reported that its sales of Champ, a syrup-type acetaminophen-based fever medicine for children, increased by 66.6 percent on-year to 4 billion won in the first quarter this year, also an all-time high in sales for the three-month period.

"Sales of cold medicines are likely to remain strong in the second quarter as this year's seasonal flu appears to be last through May," an industry source said.

While some cold medicines are selling better than usual, cold medicines, particularly those containing pseudoephedrine, are in shortage.

Pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines are prescribed to relieve nasal congestion caused by colds, allergies and hay fever.

Due to the recent shortage of pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association said it conducted a survey to supply the medicine to drugstores suffering a supply shortage.

The association said around 15,000 drugstores out of approximately 24,000 in the country had applied for the drug, and each would be supplied with 500 Sudafed brand tablets, starting on June 2.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety also said the government is monitoring the current demand and supply for cold medicines and is discussing measures for stable supply of cold medicines, together with the Ministry of Health & Welfare, Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service and the pharmaceutical association.