HEALTH

Drugstore.com delivers in three focus areas, CEO says

BY Michael Johnsen

BELLEVUE, Wash. So far, so good. Drugstore.com on Thursday announced that it is delivering on three areas of focus in what has become an exceedingly challenging retail environment.

“I’m very pleased to announce that we’ve made substantial progresses in all [three] of these areas in the first quarter, posting one of our strongest quarters to date, despite facing a very tough economy,” Dawn Lepore, Drugstore.com CEO and chairman, told analysts Wednesday evening.

The three focal points for Drugstore.com included a focus on growing its over-the-counter and vision businesses at a faster rate than overall e-commerce; a focus on driving bottom-line improvements and a focus on incremental growth for the year.

So the scorecard so far —OTC revenue grew over 11%, well ahead of recent e-commerce industry trends, and the beauty business grew at an even faster pace, increasing 14%, despite a decline in the beauty industry.

Gross margins were at 28.2%, delivering adjusted EBITDA of $5.6 million to the bottom line, which is more than double the adjusted EBITDA the previous-year period.

“I believe our record performance in the first quarter offers evidence that we can continue to grow in a difficult economic environment, while also improving the strategic positioning of the company,” Lepore said, suggesting that the online retailer will be able to maintain its improved performance through the remainder of the year.

Looking forward, Drugstore.com plans to launch its Medco Health Solutions-branded OTC web site in the second quarter, with a notable ramp in the second half of the year. “We believe our partnership is on track and we are in active conversations with other potential partners,” Lepore said.

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CDC updates swine flu cases to 91

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the number of confirmed swine flu cases to 91 late Wednesday morning, up from 46 the day before, and confirmed one death.

Incidences of swine flu are now apparent in 10 states — Arizona (1), Califorina (14), Indiana (1), Kansas (2), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (2), Nevada (1), New York (51), Ohio (1) and Texas (16). The death occurred in Texas.

“The outbreak of disease in people caused by a new influenza virus of swine origin continues to grow in the United States and internationally,” the CDC stated. “The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks.”

CDC has implemented its emergency response. The agency’s goals are to reduce transmission and illness severity, and provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by the new virus. Yesterday, CDC issued new interim guidance for clinicians on how to care for children and pregnant women who may be infected with this virus.

Young children and pregnant women are two groups of people who are at high risk of serious complications from seasonal influenza. In addition, CDC’s Division of the Strategic National Stockpile continues to send antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment and respiratory protection devices to all 50 states and U.S. territories to help them respond to the outbreak. The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is susceptible to the prescription antiviral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir).

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated guidance and new information as it becomes available,” the agency stated.

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MinuteClinic prepares to educate patients about swine flu

BY Michael Johnsen

MINNEAPOLIS MinuteClinic is prepared to answer consumers’ questions about the swine flu (H1N1) and provide rapid testing services, treatment and prevention for all types of influenza when medically appropriate, the retail clinic operator announced Wednesday morning.

“Patients with positive influenza A test results can be treated by MinuteClinic nurse practitioners with the anti-viral medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to help them recover more quickly if they are seen within 48 hours of being symptomatic,” stated Troyen Brennan, CVS Caremark EVP and chief medical officer. “These are the same anti-viral medications the CDC recommends for the treatment of the swine strain.

MinuteClinic is coordinating with local health departments to establish working relationships for surveillance of swine flu cases.

Located inside select CVS/pharmacy stores in 25 states, MinuteClinic healthcare centers are staffed by masters-prepared nurse practitioners, the clinic operator noted, adding that seasonal influenza A is still active in most states.

In addition, MinuteClinic practitioners are updated daily on the latest World Health Organizations and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and protocols for diagnosing and treating swine flu.

A rapid flu test to check for influenza A can be administered at MinuteClinic, but it can’t diagnose the swine flu strain specifically. The test — administered as a simple nasal swab — takes five minutes and results are available immediately.

Any patient testing positive for influenza A who is suspected of having swine flu, such as those who have traveled to Mexico recently or live in a community with confirmed swine flu cases, will be treated. Any cases categorized as probable swine flu would also be reported to the local health department to coordinate confirmatory testing.

Anti-viral medication may also be prescribed for family members or other close contacts of anyone infected by the flu to help prevent the spread of the virus, Brennan said.

CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic are following the CDC recommendations for infection control at stores and clinics to prevent the spread of any influenza virus, including swine flu. This may include the use of masks, gowns and gloves when appropriate.

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