For the past 25 years Norway has been fighting a killer staph infection, similar to most of the world. Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has killed tens of thousands worldwide. The difference is, Norway has been winning the fight with a simple tool.
Doctors don't prescribe as much medicine in Norway as they do worldwide. Even in hospitals that aren't as clean as other nations, Norway has beaten back the deadly staph infection.
That wasn't the case 25 years ago. Norwegians were dying from the bacteria that is still running rampant through the rest of the world.
The public health system made a big change then - stop prescribing so many drugs. Today Norway is the most infection-free country in the world.
More people die from MRSA each year than from AIDS. MRSA was first discovered in 1961 in the UK. In 1981 it had arrived in the United States, mainly found in intravenous drug users. It is now know as a 'superbug.'
"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 adviser. "But you have to take it seriously, you have to give it attention, and you must not give up."'
Norway's approach to reducing the amount of antibiotics has been one of the most successful medical breakthroughs in this decade.
Another key element to keeping infections down in Norway is their tracking of the MRSA infection. Patients with MRSA are isolated. If a medical employee tests positive to the bacteria they stay home. Doctors track each and every case by its strain and test everyone that has been in contact with those who are infected.
Norway still uses the drugs considered out of date in other nations. While in many Western countries these older drugs don't take care of infections they are still working on Norwegians. However, in Norway new antibiotics that are used elsewhere in the world are not in stock.
Doctors in Norway don't prescribe medications to their patients that have a fever from the onset. They hand over a Tylenol and wait to see if it works.
You will not see ads on television in Norway touting the latest drugs. The drug manufacturers aren't allowed to advertise.
When people are sick they are paid to stay home. Children rest in bed instead of going to school when they have a cold.
The policy is working, Norway less than 1 percent health care workers are positive carriers of MRSA staph.
Elsewhere in the world MRSA has won the battle with beta-lactam antibiotics, including methicillin, dicloxacillin, nafcillin, and oxacillin. Patients who are in hospital are at serious risk for contacting the bacteria.
People are picking up MRSA everywhere, from the public bathroom to elevator buttons. Most people have had the infection at some point in their lives. It is common for hospitals to test patients for the infection and not inform them if they have it. Our family found this out when a child had tested positive. The only reason we know that they did was when they had a return emergency room visit for another illness. During the second visit they were isolated. Still we had not been informed that the child had the bacteria until that time. Had we lived in Norway we would have and the entire family would have been tested.