December 22, 2005

EU told not doing enough to combat

By Darren Ennis

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries must stop the misuse of antibiotics if they want to avoid an increase in deaths caused by "super bugs" resistant to medical care, the European Commission said on Thursday.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has become a global phenomenon, accelerating the development of bacteria and making some bugs immune to the drugs normally used to fight them.

"Certain treatments that we have come to depend on are becoming less effective, while super bugs in hospitals are causing unnecessary deaths," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kypriano said.

Tuberculoses, malaria, gonorrhoea, sinusitis and childhood ear infections are just a few of the diseases that have become more difficult to treat because of misuse of antibiotics.

Bugs with multiple drug resistance, such as certain strains of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), can also lead to serious infections picked up while in hospital. MRSA killed nearly 1,000 people in British hospitals in 2003.

Super bugs refer to bacteria, viruses, fungi and some parasites developing immunity to certain medicines. The phenomenon is also known as "antimicrobial resistance."

In September, a Commission study of 300 hospitals showed that those with the highest levels of MRSA also had the greatest levels of antibiotic use.

The study found that hospitals in southern and western Europe had the highest rates of MRSA, while northern European countries and in particular Scandinavia had the lowest.

This latest report stresses that member states need to develop and implement national strategies and action plans to tackle the problem.

The Commission said it wanted to see a better exchange of good practice on vaccination campaigns, and hygiene and infection control.

Brussels backs a "prescription only" approach in a bid to counter self-medication -- patients taking antibiotics without proper medical advice -- a major problem across the region.