HEALTH

CDC releases updated flu guidance for back-to-school

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released updated guidance for school administrators and state and local governments to help decrease the spread of flu among students and school staff during the 2009-2010 school year.

Approximately 55 million students and 7 million staff attend the more than 130,000 public and private schools in the United States each day, the CDC noted, representing about one-fifth of the country’s population.

In a nutshell, in lieu of closing schools outright at the first hint of influenza-like illness, CDC is suggesting that sick kids and teachers stay home and that children and teachers attending schools emphasize illness etiquette — i.e., washing hands, covering mouth when coughing/sneezing and proper disposal of tissues.

The CDC is suggesting that ill students and staff be quarantined in a separate room until they can be sent home. CDC also recommends that they wear a surgical mask, if possible, and that those who care for ill students and staff wear protective gear such as a mask.

Based on the severity of 2009 H1N1 flu-related illness thus far, the CDC guidance recommends that students and staff with influenza-like illness remain home until 24 hours after resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

School staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch often with the cleaners they typically use. However, special cleaning with bleach and other non-detergent-based cleaners is not necessary, the CDC stated.

The guidance also provides a checklist for making decisions at the local government level, which is usually tasked with the decision around possible school closures. The decision to dismiss students should balance the goal of reducing the number of people who become seriously ill or die from influenza with the goal of minimizing social disruption and safety risks to children sometimes associated with school dismissal. Based on the experience and knowledge gained in jurisdictions that had large outbreaks in spring 2009, the potential benefits of preemptively dismissing students from school are often outweighed by negative consequences, including students being left home alone, health workers missing shifts when they must stay home with their children, students missing meals, and interruption of students’ education. CDC expects that the overall impact of 2009 H1N1 should be greater as compared to earlier this spring, and school dismissals may be in fact be warranted depending on the disease burden and other conditions.

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Military cutting costs via Rx negotiations; NACDS hails finding as pharmacy victory

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Vindicating claims made over the last two years or more by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and other pharmacy groups, the Department of Defense revealed that allowing the military to negotiate with drug manufacturers for lower prices on retail prescriptions is saving taxpayers big sums of money.

NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson Thursday hailed the findings as a victory for community pharmacies — and for freedom of choice for military members and their families.

The Defense Department revealed that it will spend an estimated $1.67 billion less on prescription drug medications in the 2010 fiscal year than previously projected. Behind the cost savings: a change in the way the agency obtains drug supplies for prescriptions sold in community pharmacies to beneficiaries enrolled in the TRICARE military health program. That change became effective with the release of new DoD regulations in March that allow the military to obtain pricing discounts for prescriptions sold at retail.

Those discounts, generated through direct negotiations between federal procurement officials and pharmaceutical companies, are clearly lowering the costs for the TRICARE program — and for the military beneficiaries who fill prescriptions in local community pharmacies.

“This is a true victory for military service members and their families,” Anderson said. “A rule implemented earlier this year enabled the Department of Defense to obtain pricing discounts for retail prescription medications,” he added. “Those discounts will result in remarkable savings for the Department, which translates to pharmacy choice for TRICARE beneficiaries. Military families will maintain the option to obtain their prescriptions and other pharmacy services from a retail pharmacy.

Anderson cited “an ongoing, multi-year effort” by NACDS to preserve freedom of choice for military beneficiaries, and to prevent the government from discouraging those beneficiaries — via higher out-of-pocket costs — from obtaining their prescriptions at a retail pharmacy rather than through a mail order pharmacy or military base pharmacy. The pricing discounts had long been sought by the retail pharmacy industry as a way to level the playing field between retail and mail order pharmacies serving the more than 9 million military health beneficiaries enrolled in the federal program. Historically, retail pharmacies have operated at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis mail-order and military-base pharmacies, because prescription costs were higher for military members and their families if they chose to fill their scripts in a community pharmacy setting.

“The value of a pharmacist in counseling on adhering to medication regimens, preventing possible drug interactions and improving health outcomes is invaluable to all patients, and should not be limited for the brave men and women and their families who serve and sacrifice,” Anderson asserted.

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Home Diagnostics, Inc. reports spike in retail sales

BY Michael Johnsen

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Home Diagnostics, Inc. on Thursday realized a 45.2% increase in retail channel sales for the second quarter ended June 30, the company announced.

Retail sales were driven by the continued national rollout of the TRUEresult and TRUE2go blood glucose monitoring systems and the expanded product portfolio at Walmart. Though total revenue for the second quarter was $32.7 million, a decrease of 2.1%.  International sales decreased 22.3%, reflecting lower sales in Latin America following the company’s decision to limit its exposure in that region due to poor economic conditions.

“We are particularly pleased with our domestic sales which grew during the quarter, outpacing the reported results of the majority of our branded competitors, which reported sales declines for the quarter,” stated Joseph Capper, president and CEO of HDI. “This reflects our position as a leading provider of value-priced, high-quality blood glucose monitoring products. We achieved 45% growth in our retail channel, driven by strong reception of our new products, TRUEresult and TRUE2go, as well as organic growth of existing products with our major retail partners.”

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