Originally created 08/14/97

Finnish effort reduces drug-resistant germs



BOSTON (AP) - A nationwide effort in Finland to use fewer antibiotics has reversed a troubling increase in drug-resistant germs.

The emergence of bacteria that are impervious to standard medicines is a big concern because it narrows doctors' choices when treating common infections. Overuse of antibiotics - especially prescribing them when they are not clearly needed - is often blamed.

In the late 1980s, health officials in Finland noticed an alarming increase in strep bacteria resistant to erythromycin, a standard antibiotic. They began a campaign urging doctors to cut back on their prescriptions of this and closely related medicines.

Use of these drugs quickly fell in half, and the results were soon apparent.

In 1993, the year after the effort started, erythromycin resistance peaked at 19 percent. Then it fell steadily, until 9 percent of strep bacteria were resistant in 1996.

The results of the campaign were reported by Dr. Helena Seppala and colleagues from the Finnish National Public Health Institute in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In an editorial in the journal, Dr. Morton N. Swartz of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston called this "an impressive example of how an enlightened national policy on antibiotic use can become an effective public health measure."