As the nation faces another aggressive flu season in 2018, potentially one of the worst in several years, a Florida lawmaker wants to allow testing and treating influenza right at the pharmacy counter.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter, I went down with the flu Tuesday night. The flu sucks under normal circumstances. It really sucks when you are traveling.
As I tossed and turned in my hotel bed Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I kept wondering how I would get Tamiflu or the other necessary meds needed to lessen the impact of this flu bug.
I ended up relying on an online service, MeMD, to receive a prescription for Tamiflu, but, for whatever reasons, it took eight hours for Walgreens to fill my prescription.
When you have the flu and you’re trying to nip it in the bud, hours matter.
That’s why I am paying close attention to a bill sponsored in the House by Orlando Republican Rene Placencia. HB 431 would allow pharmacists to give point-of-care testing and treatment for both influenza and Strep. The bill is next set to be heard by the House Health and Human Services committee.
As a frequent health threat for Americans, influenza affects as much as 20 percent of the U.S. population in an average year, causing 9 million to 35 million illnesses, as well as 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 56,000 deaths, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 800 deaths related to flu symptoms had been reported by the CDC between October and December 2017, says Dan Jernigan, head of the CDC’s flu division. An average of 100 people dies from the flu each week.
Diagnosis and treatment within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms can shorten both the duration and severity of the flu.
Under HB 431, the procedure for flu testing would be like what pharmacists currently offer for immunizations – with a strict protocol developed by doctors. a simple swab is inserted into a device, providing results within 15 minutes or less.
Point-of-Care Testing (POCT), using the most commonly used diagnostic flu test, is a convenient way to help diagnose the flu. It would cut the need for a more elaborate differential diagnosis.
In fact, the test – so easy a 7th grader can administer it, according to the Food and Drug Administration – is simpler than the procedures pharmacists already allowed to perform, including injections and immunizations.
HB 431 would also allow pharmacists to dispense an antiviral for a positive flu test, or an antibiotic for a positive strep test.
Since nearly 9 in 10 Floridians (86 percent) live less than 5 miles from a pharmacy – many open 24 hours – pharmacists represent the most accessible health care professionals for many residents. They are often on the front lines of a patient’s health and recovery, particularly during a severe flu season like 2018.
If HB 431 passes, Florida would join 13 other states allowing point-of-care testing and treatment for specific illnesses, with several others considering similar legislation.