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And if they don't?
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."
"Nobody is accountable to our recommendations," he said, "but I assume hospitals and institutions are interested in doing the right thing."
Dr. Barry Farr, a retired epidemiologist who watched a successful MRSA control program launched 30 years ago at the University of Virginia's hospitals, blamed the CDC for clinging to past beliefs that hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of infections like MRSA. He says it's time to add screening and isolation methods to their controls.
The CDC needs to "eat a little crow and say, 'Yeah, it does work,'" he said. "There's example after example. We don't need another study. We need somebody to just do the right thing."
But can Norway's program really work elsewhere?
The answer lies in the busy laboratory of an aging little public hospital about 100 miles outside of London. It's here that microbiologist Dr. Lynne Liebowitz got tired of seeing the stunningly low Nordic MRSA rates while facing her own burgeoning cases.
So she turned Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn into a petri dish, asking doctors to almost completely stop using two antibiotics known for provoking MRSA infections.
One month later, the results were in: MRSA rates were tumbling. And they've continued to plummet. Five years ago, the hospital had 47 MRSA bloodstream infections. This year they've had one.
"I was shocked, shocked," says Liebowitz, bouncing onto her toes and grinning as colleagues nearby drip blood onto slides and peer through microscopes in the hospital laboratory.
When word spread of her success, Liebowitz's phone began to ring. So far she has replicated her experiment at four other hospitals, all with the same dramatic results.
"It's really very upsetting that some patients are dying from infections which could be prevented," she says. "It's wrong."
Around the world, various medical providers have also 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 Japan, with its cutting-edge technology and modern hospitals, about 17,000 people die from MRSA every year.
Dr. Satoshi Hori, chief infection control doctor at Juntendo University Hospital in Tokyo, says doctors overprescribe antibiotics because they are given financial incentives to push drugs on patients.
Hori now limits antibiotics only to patients who really need them and screens and isolates high-risk patients. So far his hospital has cut the number of MRSA cases by two-thirds.
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."
Pittsburgh's program has prompted all other major hospital-acquired infections to plummet as well, saving roughly $1 million a year.
"So, how do you pay for it?" Muder asked. "Well, we just don't pay for MRSA infections, that's all."
Beth Reimer of Batavia, Ill., became an advocate for MRSA precautions after her 5-week-old daughter Madeline caught a cold that took a fatal turn. One day her beautiful baby had the sniffles. The next?
"She wasn't breathing. She was limp," the mother recalled. "Something was terribly wrong."
MRSA had invaded her little lungs. The antibiotics were useless. Maddie struggled to breathe, swallow, survive, for two weeks.
"For me to sit and watch Madeline pass away from such an aggressive form of something, to watch her fight for her little life -- it was too much," Reimer said.
Since Madeline's death, Reimer has become outspoken about the need for better precautions, pushing for methods successfully used in Norway. She's stunned, she said, that anyone disputes the need for change.
"Why are they fighting for this not to take place?" she said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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