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Don’t use rapid tests to rule out strep throat, many pharmacists directed

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As efforts to bring $15 rapid strep tests to Canada’s pharmacies continue, the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists says using them in the absence of a consultation with a physician or nurse practitioner does not meet the « standard of care » for diagnosing strep throat, especially in children. 

The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada, a national association representing pharmacy business owners, says the rapid tests can help save patients with sore throats a trip to the doctor’s office and reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. That’s because many sore throats are caused by viruses, not bacteria, rendering antibiotics useless. 

The association’s members include Shoppers Drug Mart, which started providing the tests about three years ago through pilot projects in the three provinces: Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia.

For the rapid tests, pharmacists take a throat swab and test for Group A streptococcus bacteria (which cause strep throat) on site within minutes. If it comes back positive for strep, they advise the patient to go see a doctor or nurse practitioner for an antibiotic prescription.

If the test comes back negative, the association says, the patient may be able to just go home and rest instead of braving crowded waiting rooms. 

But many pediatric infectious disease specialists say the in-pharmacy tests aren’t accurate enough to rule out strep throat on their own — and it’s risky to miss strep diagnoses in children, because they can suffer from complications.

The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists shares that concern. In May, it instructed pharmacists in that province to stop doing the rapid strep tests for diagnosis.  

‘It needed to stop’

Rapid strep tests seemed like a good idea when they first arrived, said Beverley Zwicker, registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists.

Pharmacists « really saw this as providing a service to people, » she told CBC News. 

But as the tests became more widely available, the college began hearing concerns from children’s health-care providers. They included reports of pediatric patients showing up at a Halifax emergency department with positive strep tests from local pharmacies when they didn’t actually have strep throat, Zwicker said.

When the college looked into the issue further, it determined that having a pharmacist swab a child’s throat to test for strep without a complete medical examination was contrary to the clinical practice guidelines established by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which are regularly used by health-care providers in Canada. 

Those guidelines say that for children, even a negative rapid strep test should be backed up by a throat « culture » test — which definitively confirms the presence of strep by seeing if it grows in a lab setting from the throat sample. That’s the test doctors routinely use when they suspect strep throat in kids.

So in May, the college « made it very clear to all pharmacists that conducting this test without the patient first having that physical assessment by a physician or nurse practitioner was inappropriate and that it needed to stop, » Zwicker said.  

The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists issued this notice in May 2018. (Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists)

The point-of-care tests may still have a role to play if pharmacists work in conjunction with doctors and nurse practitioners, she said.

If a doctor examines a patient and believes they have strep throat, for example, they can send the patient to the pharmacy with an antibiotic prescription contingent on the result of the point-of-care test. If it’s positive, the patient can start antibiotics right away, instead of waiting for the results of a traditional « throat culture test, » which is sent to a lab and takes a couple of days.

It’s too early to tell whether doctors and nurse practitioners will use that option, Zwicker said, since the strep throat « season » has just begun.  

Pharmacists do ‘thorough assessment,’ association says

When asked to respond to the concerns expressed by the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association said it agreed « that an assessment of symptoms by a healthcare provider is required prior to determining the appropriateness of the point of care testing » and that pharmacists have « the training and the expertise » required. 

« Pharmacists are healthcare providers and we do perform a thorough assessment of the patient before determining whether to perform the test, » said Sandra Hanna, a practising Toronto-area pharmacist and the association’s vice-president of pharmacy affairs, in an email to CBC News.   

« Like any test there are always certain limitations and pharmacists use their professional judgment when determining whether the test is appropriate for a given patient, » Hanna said. 

« In some circumstances pharmacists would refer to a physician, and age is one of the criteria used in considering the appropriate care plan for a patient. »

But Zwicker told CBC News that the « assessment » Nova Scotia pharmacists were asked to use in conjunction with the rapid strep tests was a questionnaire about symptoms. The college concluded that was not an adequate replacement for the examinations conducted in a doctor’s or nurse practitioner’s office, she said. 

New guidelines for Alberta pharmacists

In Alberta and British Columbia, the colleges governing pharmacy practice have not issued similar directives to Nova Scotia’s. 

However, in an emailed statement to CBC News, Jeff Whissell, deputy registrar of the Alberta College of Pharmacy, said the college had completed new practice standards and guidelines on the use of point-of-care testing in pharmacies to take effect on Jan. 1.  

As consumer demand increases, pharmacists need to understand « the limitations » of rapid strep tests, « especially for children, » he said.  

« If a rapid strep test or any other point of care test produces a negative result, pharmacists should discuss the sensitivity limitations of the test with their patient, and provide appropriate information for the patient on the need for follow-up, including the possibility of consulting with their physician for further investigation. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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