Floridians should get tested and treated for flu and strep at pharmacies

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Flu season is picking up and it is on an upswing earlier than normal this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is alarming, considering that each year since 2010, the CDC has estimated the flu has resulted in between 9.3 million and 49 million illnesses in the United States.

You cannot go to a national news site without one horror story after another popping up about a teen or a young child dying from the flu. And the circumstance varies from “they did not get the flu shot” or “they sought medical attention days later” or “they just did not get treated.” 

While the debate rages on, year after year, about whose territory this is and what special interests are for and against this – children and people of all ages are dying from the flu. 

What if I told you there was another way to be tested for the flu and strep and be given the medicine right then and there? Well, there is. Currently, 17 states allow for pharmacists to test and treat for the flu and strep and provide treatment under a supervising physician. And, now Florida has its chance too.

I filed House Bill 389 in the Florida House that would allow local pharmacists to provide the testing for and treatment of influenza and streptococcus. This legislation provides requirements for written protocol between the pharmacist and supervising physician. The bill is identical to Sen. Travis Hutson’s Senate Bill 714 in the Florida Senate.

What would this bill mean to you, the patient? It would mean that you’d have one more access point to get treated and tested. This not only speeds up the process, but also gives those without insurance a way to be seen, freeing up our emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and helping to clear them of these contagious diseases and reduce their spread. It can also be a cheaper option. While you may spend approximately $200 on a visit to an urgent care, you may only spend about $30 at the local pharmacy to be seen for the same symptoms.

Compared to younger adults, older adults have a higher prevalence of chronic medical conditions, increasing the risk of flu-related complications, according to the CDC. One research example has shown that diabetes and influenza infection can actually triple the risk of hospitalization, quadruple the risk of admission to the intensive care unit after hospitalization, and double the risk of death.

Florida has a great opportunity to help Florida families during a very stressful time and do so in a responsible manner.  This legislation is key because it creates a collaboration among local pharmacists and physicians here in Florida. Regardless of whether you test positive for the flu or strep, the pharmacist could recommend you visit a physician or follow up with them for further testing.Get the Florida Voices newsletter in your inbox.

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Should we not do all we can to create more access points to testing and treating the flu and strep? I ask my colleagues in the House and the Senate to focus on the impact this legislation will have on saving lives and not on the argument that this is doctors versus pharmacists or an expansion of scope — it’s a human issue and a life-saving issue.

Floridians deserve a choice on where they can get tested and treated for the flu and influenza in a quick and cost conducive way.

State Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, represents House District 51 covering central Brevard County.