The best way to cut down on infections is to reduce antibiotic use, Norway finds


OSLO, Norway -- Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia last year, soaring virtually unchecked.

The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway's public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

Now a spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway's model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying these deaths -- 19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS -- are unnecessary.

``It's a very sad situation that in some places so many are dying from this, because we have shown here in Norway that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] can be controlled, and with not too much effort,'' said Jan Hendrik-Binder, Oslo's MRSA medical advisor. ``But you have to take it seriously, you have to give it attention and you must not give up.''

The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the leading public health threats on the planet. A six-month investigation by The Associated Press found overuse and misuse of medicines has led to mutations in once curable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, making them harder and in some cases impossible to treat.

Now, in Norway's simple solution, there's a glimmer of hope.

ANTIBIOTICS MISSING

Dr. John Birger Haug shuffles down Aker's scuffed corridors, patting the pocket of his baggy white scrubs. ``My bible,'' the infectious disease specialist says, pulling out a little red Antibiotic Guide that details this country's impressive MRSA solution.

It's what's missing from this book -- an array of antibiotics -- that makes it so remarkable.

``There are times I must show these golden rules to our doctors and tell them they cannot prescribe something, but our patients do not suffer more and our nation, as a result, is mostly infection free,'' he says.

Norway's model is surprisingly straightforward.

• Norwegian doctors prescribe fewer antibiotics than any other country, so people do not have a chance to develop resistance to them.

• Patients with MRSA are isolated and medical staff who test positive stay home.

• Doctors track each case of MRSA by its individual strain, interviewing patients about where they've been and who they've been with, testing anyone who has been in contact with them.

``We don't throw antibiotics at every person with a fever,'' says Haug. ``We tell them to hang on, wait and see, and we give them a Tylenol to feel better.''

U.S. REACTION

Dr. John Jernigan at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they incorporate some of Norway's solutions in varying degrees, and his agency ``requires hospitals to move the needle, to show improvement, and if they don't show improvement they need to do more.''

And if they don't?

``Nobody is accountable to our recommendations,'' he said, ``but I assume hospitals and institutions are interested in doing the right thing.''

Around the world, various medical providers have successfully adapted Norway's program with encouraging results. A medical center in Billings, Mont., cut MRSA infections by 89 percent by increasing screening, isolating patients and making all staff -- not just doctors -- responsible for increasing hygiene.

In 2001, the CDC approached a Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh about conducting a small test program. It started in one unit, and within four years, the entire hospital was screening everyone who came through the door for MRSA. The result: an 80 percent decrease in MRSA infections.

The program has now been expanded to all 153 VA hospitals, resulting in a 50 percent drop in MRSA bloodstream infections, said Dr. Robert Muder, chief of infectious diseases at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

``It's kind of a no-brainer,'' he said. ``You save people pain, you save people the work of taking care of them, you save money, you save lives and you can export what you learn to other hospital-acquired infections.''

``So, how do you pay for it?'' Muder asked. ``Well, we just don't pay for MRSA infections, that's all.''

Source http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/01/1...ctions-by.html