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Published: Saturday, 12/11/2004

Giant Eagle stops sale of strep tests

Facing mounting pressure from physicians, Giant Eagle grocery officials said yesterday they have temporarily stopped selling tests to detect strep throat at 15 stores in Ohio, including two in the Toledo metro area.

The $9.95 "rapid strep tests" were rolled out last month and offered in Giant Eagle pharmacies as a convenience item.

Many physicians criticized the idea, saying the tests aren't always accurate and patients could be placed in danger if they assumed they didn't have strep throat but actually did. Physicians also were concerned that the tests don't detect other serious conditions, such as meningitis, and customers might assume they're fine but still have a serious illness.

The five-minute tests, which are typically done in a doctor's office, are used to detect the streptococcus bacterium, which can cause strep throat. Doctors typically follow up a negative rapid strep test result with more accurate throat culture testing to confirm a diagnosis.

Giant Eagle officials defended the program last month, saying it wasn't meant as a replacement for a doctor's exam and that they encouraged all customers to consult with a doctor regardless of the outcome of the test.

The Ohio State Medical Board sent a letter to Giant Eagle informing the Pittsburgh-based chain that the board considered the tests to be a possible violation of Ohio law because they could be considered to be the practice of medicine without a license.

"We had some serious concerns," said Tom Dilling, executive director of the board.

In a statement released yesterday, Giant Eagle officials said they would temporarily stop selling the tests while they discussed the matter with the medical board so they could further explain their position. Mr. Dilling welcomed that, but said he hoped the decision was "permanent."

"The board sees no reason this program should be continued as it's currently structured," he said.

The rapid strep test program was a Giant Eagle pilot project being tried at 15 of the chain's stores in Ohio, mostly in the Columbus area. But company officials said the tests were also being offered at its Toledo-area stores in Rossford and Sylvania Township.

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