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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Norway cures the superbug!

Norway discovers "cure" for superbugs

Though not technically a cure, as it is not a cidal chemical agent nor some fancy schmancy surgery, Norway has indeed found a way around the problem of the MRSA superbug. First, many may not see this as a huge problem. It is. More people die from MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus) than from AIDS in the U.S. (and 48,000 people die in the U.S. from hospital acquired infections). Across the world, especially in Japan--perhaps the country with the highest reputation for high tech medicine in the world--MRSA costs billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. So what did Norway do to virtually eliminate the bug in their country?

They banned antibiotics. In all but the most severe cases, doctors do not, even cannot, prescribe antibiotics. Here in the U.S. if you have a cough or some sniffles we hop in our car and see our providers expecting to get a prescription for an antibiotic. And our expectations are thoroughly met. Off we go to the pharmacy for our macrolide antibiotics, our penicillin, our tetracycline, our quinolones. But in Norway doctors are not even allowed to prescribe these things, at least not for common ailments. They give out some Tylenol and tell the poor Norwegian to get over it, as he or she will feel better in ten days or so on their own.

Also of note is the ban on drug marketing. Big Pharma is told to stay the heck away from advertising, which led in that country to a decrease in patients asking for this cure and that. Doctors had in the end more control and more information.

Once someone is identified with MRSA in Norway they are isolated and screened for history: who might they have contacted the infection from; whom they might have given it to.

The result has been sensational: the only people who contract MRSA in Norway now are people who have brought it into the country from visits to foreign lands (like the U.S.).

Will these results, as amazing as they are, cause the U.S. to make some changes? Um, I wouldn't bet on it. For one thing, our system is profit driven; pharmaceutical manufacturers would buy any number of politicians to defeat legislation that would curtail antibiotic use in this country. Republican and Blue Dog Democrats would be hollerin' about how we were condemning grandma to an early death (though saving tens of thousands of lives...each year) just so Big Pharma could recoup big profits on Zithromax, Levaquin, Cipro, Omnicef, etc.

So if you happen to be one of the unfortunates diagnosed with MRSA this year, take heart. Glaxo, Merck, Abbott and their pals are going to be doing better on the stock exchange, which is something. Isn't it?

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