Cutting Infections by Cutting Antibiotics

This week in Popularly Counterintuitive comes from this report by Curious Cat.  Norway has, over the last couple of decades, aggressively fought infections in its health facilities.  Part of its strategy has been a strict reduction in the prescription and use of antibiotics.  As a result of this and other measures, Norway is the most infection-free country in the world.  Since the U.S. now has seen signs of drug-resistant tuberculosis, in addition to the spread of drug-resistant staph (MRSA), it could use some help.

The plan is relatively straightforward, and there are signs it could be replicated quite effectively.

• 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.

Veterans’ Administration hospitals saw a fifty percent reduction in MRSA infections after instituting a screening procedure.  The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. have developed guidelines for infection reduction, but they lack the power to enforce them.  Hospitals are no doubt interested in reducing infections, but have to deal with demands from patients for antibiotics that make them feel better psychologically, even if it does nothing for them medically.  A little government regulation here might help.

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