Big Surprise; Weeds are now resistance to overused herbicides

Study Says Overuse Threatens Gains From Modified Crops

By ANDREW POLLACK

Genetically engineered crops have provided “substantial” environmental and economic benefits to American farmers, but overuse of the technology is threatening to erode the gains, a national science advisory organization said Tuesday in a report.

The report is described as the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of genetically modified crops on American farmers, who have rapidly adopted them since their introduction in 1996. The study was issued by the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences and provides advice to the nation under a Congressional charter.

The report found that the crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also had lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.

“That’s a long and impressive list of benefits these crops can provide, and have provided to adopting farmers,” David E. Ervin, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said on Tuesday during a webcast news conference from Washington.

But Dr. Ervin, a professor of environmental management and economics at Portland State University in Oregon, warned that farmers were jeopardizing the benefits by planting too many so-called Roundup Ready crops. These crops are genetically engineered to be impervious to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds while leaving the crops unscathed.

Overuse of this seductively simple approach to weed control is starting to backfire. Use of Roundup, or its generic equivalent, glyphosate, has skyrocketed to the point that weeds are rapidly becoming resistant to the chemical. That is rendering the technology less useful, requiring farmers to start using additional herbicides, some of them more toxic than glyphosate.

“Farmer practices may be reducing the utility of some G.E. traits as pest-management tools and increasing the likelihood of a return to more environmentally damaging practices,” the report concluded. It said the problem required national attention.

More than 80 percent of the corn, soybean and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered. The crops tolerate Roundup, are resistant to insects, or both.

American farmers were the first to widely adopt the technology and still account for about half of all the engineered crops grown. The crops are also being widely grown in Latin America and parts of Asia but are still largely shunned in Europe.

The rapid adoption of the crops is evidence that American farmers see the technology as beneficial.

Critics of biotechnology, who say the crops may be risky to health and the environment, have issued studies saying that use of the crops has resulted in increased reliance on pesticides and has had only a minimal effect on crop yields.

The National Research Council report, more than 200 pages, was prepared by a committee of mainly academic scientists, and it relied primarily on peer-reviewed papers.

Still, the report is not likely to win over critics of the crops.

One critic, Charles Benbrook, said the conclusion that the crops help farmers might not be true in the future. That is because the report relies mostly on data from the first few years, before prices of the biotech seeds rose sharply and the glyphosate-resistant weeds proliferated.

“This is a very different future,” said Dr. Benbrook, an agricultural economist who is chief scientist at the Organic Center, which promotes organic food and farming. “The cost is going to be way higher. The environmental impacts are going to go up fairly dramatically.”

As prices of the biotech seeds have risen sharply, even some farmers are now starting to question whether they are worth it. Just last week, Monsanto, the leading agricultural biotechnology company, said it would lower the prices of its newest genetically engineered soybeans and corn seeds because farmers were not buying as many as it had expected.

The Justice Department is investigating whether Monsanto, which has patents on the Roundup Ready system, is violating antitrust laws, unduly increasing prices or hindering innovation.

The National Research Council report addresses this issue briefly without mentioning Monsanto. It says that patent licensing terms have “not adversely affected the economic welfare of farmers who adopt G.E. crops.” But it said there was some evidence that the availability of nonengineered crops “may be restricted for some farmers.”

Monsanto, in a statement, said the report “affirms what farmers know — that agricultural biotechnology has delivered substantial environmental and economic benefits.” It said it was working with farmers to help manage and monitor herbicide-resistant weeds.

Shares of Monsanto, which have been falling since January, slipped nearly 2 percent Tuesday to $67.75.

The report said that the use of Roundup Ready crops had led to a huge increase in the spraying of glyphosate but a nearly equal decrease in the use of other herbicides. That is a net environmental benefit, the report said, because glyphosate is less toxic to animals than many other herbicides and does not last long in the environment.

The report compared genetically modified crops with the conventionally grown crops they replaced, not to organic crops.

The use of herbicide-tolerant crops has also made it easier for farmers to forgo tilling as a way to control weeds. So-called no-till farming helps prevent soil erosion and the runoff of rainwater containing sediments and chemicals. The improvement in water quality could prove to be the largest benefit of the crops, the report said, though it added that efforts should be made to measure any such effects.

The other major class of genetically engineered crops consists of the so-called BT corn and BT cotton, which contain bacterial genes allowing the plants to produce an insecticide.

The report said that use of chemical insecticides had declined as BT crops had spread. In areas with heavy insect pressure, it said, the use of the crops has increased farmer income because of higher yields and reduced spending on insecticide.

The report said that when genetically engineered crops were introduced, some had lower yields than conventional varieties, a finding often cited by critics. But the report said newer studies showed either a modest increase in yield or no effect.

Chuck Myers, a corn and soybean farmer from Nebraska who was not involved in the report, said that even if biotechnology had not increased the intrinsic yield potential of the crops, “If you’re controlling a pest, you’re preserving your yield.”

 

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It’s Official: our oceans are totally F@#*ed

Even AOL is sounding the alarm on just how fucked up our global sewars, I mean our OCEANS  of course, have become… I can’t believe that I really can’t even choose a “safe” fish anymore…
  • PCB Levels in Dolphins Raise Red Flags for Seafood Eaters
Updated: 6 hours 27 minutes ago

Dave Thier

Dave Thier Contributor

(Feb. 19) — Researchers have found dangerously high levels of PCBs in dolphins off the coast of Georgia, raising concerns for humans dining on the same fish from the seafood-rich waters, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

The discovery is especially alarming considering that the Environmental Protection Agency banned PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for most uses in 1979. In 2009, however, the researchers found that these dolphins had the highest levels of PCBs in the fat of a marine mammal ever. Dolphins eat far more fish than humans, and the massive amount of PCBs that they’ve been ingesting is wreaking havoc on their health.

“Some of these (dolphins) are living on the edge,” Lori Schwacke, principal scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Oceans and Human Health Center of Excellence at Fort Johnson, told the Post and Courier. “Their immune systems have been suppressed to the point where the outbreak of a single virus could result in mass kills. … While we don’t understand the risk to people yet, it’s enough of a red flag to make us want to do further experimentation.”

As a coolant, PCBs were valued for chemical stability, and they tend to have very long half-lives. The fact that the researchers are finding such high levels of a compound banned 30 years ago suggests that these substances posses a troubling longevity.

The researchers originally tested animals near Brunswick, Ga., a heavily polluted area home to four federal Superfund sites. But the real surprise came when they tested animals in an estuarine research reserve 30 miles away and discovered that those dolphins had similar PCB levels as the Brunswick dolphins. As animals, dolphins are homebodies, meaning that it’s likely the fish are doing the traveling.

Schwacke worried that this suggests the PCBs, rather than remaining stationary in the sediment, are moving out into the coastal ecosystem.

Georgia fisheries recently have been hit hard by regulations limiting grouper and red snapper fishing, but these findings may not yet add to those woes. The implication of PCBs in dolphins doesn’t necessarily outweigh the health benefits of eating seafood, but still warrants further research into just how entrenched these dangerous chemicals are in the coastal ecosystem and diet.

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FDA finally admits BPA risk to humans

From the New York Times
January 16, 2010

F.D.A. Concerned About Substance in Food Packaging

In a shift of position, the Food and Drug Administration is expressing concerns about possible health risks from bisphenol-A, or BPA, a widely used component of plastic bottles and food packaging that it declared safe in 2008.

The agency said Friday that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and would join other federal health agencies in studying the chemical in both animals and humans.

The action is another example of the drug agency under the Obama administration becoming far more aggressive in taking hard looks at what it sees as threats to public health. In recent months, the agency has stepped up its oversight of food safety and has promised to tighten approval standards for medical devices.

Concerns about BPA are based on studies that have found harmful effects in animals, and on the recognition that the chemical seeps into food and baby formula, and that nearly everyone is exposed to it, starting in the womb.

But health officials said there was no proof that BPA was dangerous to humans.

“If we thought it was unsafe, we would be taking strong regulatory action,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the drug agency, at a news briefing.

Nonetheless, health officials suggested a number of things people could do to limit their exposure to BPA, like throwing away scratched or worn bottles or cups made with BPA (it can leak from the scratches), not putting very hot liquids into cups or bottles with BPA and checking the labels on containers to make sure they are microwave safe. The drug agency also recommended that mothers breastfeed their infants for at least 12 months; liquid formula contains traces of BPA.

BPA has been used since the 1960s to make hard plastic bottles, sippy cups for toddlers and the linings of food and beverage cans, including the cans used to hold infant formula and soda. Until recently, it was used in baby bottles, but major manufacturers are now making bottles without it. Plastic items containing BPA are generally marked with a 7 on the bottom for recycling purposes.

The chemical can leach into food, and a study of more than 2,000 people found that more than 90 percent of them had BPA in their urine. Traces have also been found in breast milk, the blood of pregnant women and umbilical cord blood.

Reports of potential health effects have made BPA notorious, especially among parents, and led to widespread shunning of products thought to contain the chemical. Canada, Chicago and Suffolk County, N.Y., have banned BPA from children’s products.

The government will spend $30 million on BPA research in humans and animals, to take place over 18 to 24 months, health officials said at a news briefing on Friday.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the research would involve potential effects on behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, cancer, asthma, heart disease and effects that could be carried from one generation to the next.

Activists on both sides of the passionately debated issue said they were disappointed in the government’s action. The American Chemical Council, which represents companies that make and use BPA, issued a statement saying BPA was safe, praising the health agencies as confirming that there was no proof of harm to people by it, but also saying, “We are disappointed that some of the recommendations are likely to worry consumers and are not well founded.”

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, said the F.D.A. had not gone far enough, because its recommendations put the responsibility on families and not on companies making products containing BPA. In addition, Ms. Zuckerman said, the focus on safety should not be limited to children, because studies have linked the chemicals to heart and liver disease and other problems in adults.

Government evaluations of BPA have had a contentious history. The drug agency wrote a draft report calling it safe in 2008. But shortly after that, the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, said BPA was cause for “some concern,” citing the same issues that the drug agency is now agreeing to: potential effects on the brain, behavior and prostate in fetuses, infants and children.

Then the drug agency asked an independent panel of scientific advisers to review its draft report, and the panel gave it a scathing review. It accused the F.D.A. of ignoring important evidence and giving consumers a false sense of security about the chemical. The drug agency promised to reconsider BPA, and the announcement on Friday fulfilled that pledge.

“We are for the first time saying we believe there is some concern about the substance’s safety, and we’ve closed the gap between N.I.H. and F.D.A.,” Dr. Sharfstein of the F.D.A. said in an interview.

Dr. Sharfstein said the drug agency had become more receptive to new techniques of studying the safety of chemicals. Old methods involved giving test animals large doses and looking for clear evidence of effects like illness, tumors or organ damage. Newer methods involve studying small doses — similar to human exposures — and looking for more subtle effects, like changes in behavior or biochemistry. Results can be harder to interpret and may demand more study.

Dr. Sharfstein said the drug agency was also re-evaluating the way it regulates BPA. The substance is now classified as a food additive, a category that requires a cumbersome and time-consuming process to make regulatory changes. Dr. Sharfstein said he hoped its status could be changed to “food contact substance,” which would give the F.D.A. more regulatory power and let it act more quickly if it needed to do so.

Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington.

The Critical Role of Wheat in Human Disease

wheat, breadLectin is a type of ‘wheat germ agglutinin’ (WGA) and glycoprotein. Through thousands of years of selectively breeding wheat for increasingly larger quantities of protein, the concentration of WGA lectin has increased proportionately.

WGA is largely responsible for many of wheat’s pervasive ill effects.What’s more, WGA is found in highest concentrations in “whole wheat,” including its supposedly superior sprouted form.

What is unique about the WGA glycoprotein is that it can do direct damage to the majority of tissues in your body without requiring a specific set of genetic susceptibilities or immune-mediated articulations.

This may explain why chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions are endemic to wheat-consuming populations.

WGA lectin is an exceptionally tough adversary as it is formed by the same disulfide bonds that make vulcanized rubber and human hair so strong, flexible and durable.

Like man-made pesticides, lectins are extremely small, resistant to breakdown by living systems, and tend to accumulate and become incorporated into tissues where they interfere with normal biological processes.

At exceedingly small concentrations, WGA stimulates the synthesis of pro-inflammatory chemical messengers. WGA induces thymus atrophy in rats. WGA can pass through the blood-brain barrier. It may also interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function.

Sources:

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Why Haven’t Fruit & Vegetable Eaters Been Told About This Toxic Waste Overload?

Originally posted by: Dr. Mercola (Dr. Joseph Mercola, M.D.)
January 16 2010 | 30,365 views

gypsum, FGD gypsum, farming, toxic waste, soilThe U.S. government is encouraging farmers to spread a chalky waste from coal-fired power plants on their fields to loosen and fertilize soil.

The material is produced by power plant “scrubbers” that remove acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions.

The substance is a synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, and it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The Environmental Protection Agency says those toxic metals occur in only tiny amounts. But some environmentalists say too little is known about how the material affects crops, and ultimately human health.

For more details, see the following frightening story from the Wall Street Journal;

Agency’s Move to Designate Ash as Hazardous Is Slowed by Regulatory Czar’s Assessment of Impact on Industry

By NEIL KING JR. and REBECCA SMITH

The Obama administration is engaged in an unusual internal spat as the White House and Environmental Protection Agency tussle over how to handle millions of tons of waste from coal-fired power plants.

Utility and environmental groups are watching the coal-ash dispute as an indicator of the administration’s pliability on the regulatory front.

Associated PressAwareness of potential coal-ash problems burst into the news at the end of 2008, when a dike broke at a pond near a power plant in Tennessee. Above, a home destroyed in the incident.

Awareness of potential coal-ash problems burst into the news at the end of 2008, when a dike broke at a pond near a power plant in Tennessee. Left, a home destroyed in the incident.

Awareness of potential coal-ash problems burst into the news at the end of 2008, when a dike broke at a pond near a power plant in Tennessee. Left, a home destroyed in the incident.

The White House has already backed several new environmental initiatives that have drawn sharp reactions from industry, particularly EPA findings last month that designated carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant.

But environmental groups are pointing to a flurry of industry meetings on the coal-ash issue as evidence that utilities and other companies are using a foothold within the White House to fight back against potentially far-reaching new rules.

The office of President Barack Obama’s regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, has held nearly 20 meetings with industry groups since October to discuss the potential impact of proposed EPA rules to treat coal ash and other coal byproducts as hazardous waste, according to White House records. Mr. Sunstein directs the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Watchdog groups say it is unusual for the OMB to insert itself so prominently, and so early, into the process. In this case, the EPA has yet to publish its proposed new regulations for coal ash, a step that would then open the door to public comment and hearings.

“Industry is trying to influence the process in a back-door fashion,” said Lisa Evans, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental organization.

Utility companies argue that a federal hazardous-waste ruling would impose huge logistical challenges and add potentially billions of dollars in new costs. Other industries warn that an adverse EPA ruling could jeopardize the use of coal ash in such construction materials as cement mix and wallboard.

Associated PressSediment can be seen in the Emory River as dredging machines pump it and ash into holding ponds to be removed from the water at the plant in Kingston, Tenn., in December 2009.

Sediment can be seen in the Emory River as dredging machines pump it and ash into holding ponds to be removed from the water at the plant in Kingston, Tenn., in December 2009.

Sediment can be seen in the Emory River as dredging machines pump it and ash into holding ponds to be removed from the water at the plant in Kingston, Tenn., in December 2009.

As the power industry has sought to cut air pollution from power plants, it has resulted in more pollutants remaining in the material left behind after coal is burned. It contains such toxins as arsenic, lead, chromium and selenium, which present health and environmental risks if released into ground water. The exact characteristics depend on the type of coal burned and methods used to capture soot and smoke.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson submitted her proposed rules on coal waste to the OMB for review in September, promising to issue her decision on the matter by the end of the year.

But last month, in the wake of the OMB meetings, the EPA said it was delaying its decision “due to the complexity of the analysis” required. All proposed rules are normally run by OMB for review.

Administration officials declined to elaborate on the discussions, but defended the ongoing review. “This has been a very regular, very normal deliberative process on a very complex rule,” said OMB spokesman Thomas Gavin.

Each year, the waste left over from burning coal generates 125 to 130 million tons of ash and sludge — enough to fill a million railcars. Currently, about 40% of that waste finds it way into new products and 60% is stored in ponds or pits, mostly on utility property.

There is no single, federal standard requiring that pits be lined to prevent the leeching of pollutants into ground water or streams, nor is there a common standard for pit or pond structures and monitoring.

“Most states have fairly good enforcement, but EPA is looking at doing something more,” said Tony Earley, president of the Edison Electric Institute and also chief executive of DTE Energy. “We’re worried about added costs.”

The coal-ash issue burst into the news at the end of 2008, when a dike broke open at a pond near a power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, sending 5.4-million cubic yards of polluted water sweeping across 300 acres.

OMB’s prominent involvement in the coal-ash issue has surprised some observers, who point out that the regulatory affairs office within OMB has largely stood aside as other huge regulatory matters, such as the EPA carbon-dioxide ruling, have moved forward.

A cure for MRSA

Solution to Killer Superbug Found in Norway

Updated: 9 hours 11 minutes ago

Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza

OSLO, Norway (Dec. 30) — Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia this year, soaring virtually unchecked.

The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway’s public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

Now a spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway’s model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying these deaths — 19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS — are unnecessary.

Dr. Lynne Liebowitz

Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP
Dr. Lynne Liebowitz, a microbiologist, works in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, England.

“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.”

The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the leading public health threats on the planet. A six-month investigation by The Associated Press found overuse and misuse of medicines has led to mutations in once curable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, making them harder and in some cases impossible to treat.

Now, in Norway’s simple solution, there’s a glimmer of hope.

Dr. John Birger Haug shuffles down Aker’s scuffed corridors, patting the pocket of his baggy white scrubs. “My bible,” the infectious disease specialist says, pulling out a little red Antibiotic Guide that details this country’s impressive MRSA solution.

It’s what’s missing from this book — an array of antibiotics — that makes it so remarkable.

“There are times I must show these golden rules to our doctors and tell them they cannot prescribe something, but our patients do not suffer more and our nation, as a result, is mostly infection free,” he says.

Norway’s model is surprisingly straightforward.

— Norwegian doctors prescribe fewer antibiotics than any other country, so people do not have a chance to develop resistance to them.

— Patients with MRSA are isolated, and medical staff who test positive stay at home.

— Doctors track each case of MRSA by its individual strain, interviewing patients about where they’ve been and who they’ve been with, testing anyone who has been in contact with them.

Haug unlocks the dispensary, a small room lined with boxes of pills, bottles of syrups and tubes of ointment. What’s here? Medicines considered obsolete in many developed countries. What’s not? Some of the newest, most expensive antibiotics, which aren’t even registered for use in Norway, “because if we have them here, doctors will use them,” he says.

He points to an antibiotic. “If I treated someone with an infection in Spain with this penicillin, I would probably be thrown in jail,” he says, “and rightly so, because it’s useless there.”

Norwegians are sanguine about their coughs and colds, toughing it out through low-grade infections.

“We don’t throw antibiotics at every person with a fever. We tell them to hang on, wait and see, and we give them a Tylenol to feel better,” Haug says.

Convenience stores in downtown Oslo are stocked with an amazing and colorful array — 42 different brands at one downtown 7-Eleven — of soothing, but non-medicated, lozenges, sprays and tablets. All workers are paid on days they, or their children, stay home sick. And drug makers aren’t allowed to advertise, reducing patient demands for prescription drugs.

In fact, most marketing here sends the opposite message: “Penicillin is not a cough medicine,” says the tissue packet on the desk of Norway’s MRSA control director, Dr. Petter Elstrom.

He recognizes his country is “unique in the world and best in the world” when it comes to MRSA. Less than 1 percent of health care providers are positive carriers of MRSA staph.

But Elstrom worries about the bacteria slipping in through other countries. Last year almost every diagnosed case in Norway came from someone who had been abroad.

“So far we’ve managed to contain it, but if we lose this, it will be a huge problem,” he said. “To be very depressing about it, we might in some years be in a situation where MRSA is so endemic that we have to stop doing advanced surgeries, things like organ transplants, if we can’t prevent infections. In the worst-case scenario, we are back to 1913, before we had antibiotics.”

Forty years ago, a new spectrum of antibiotics enchanted public health officials, quickly quelling one infection after another. In wealthier countries that could afford them, patients and providers came to depend on antibiotics. Trouble was, the more antibiotics are consumed, the more resistant bacteria develop.

Norway responded swiftly to initial MRSA outbreaks in the 1980s by cutting antibiotic use. Thus while they got ahead of the infection, the rest of the world fell behind.

In Norway, MRSA has accounted for less than 1 percent of staph infections for years. That compares to 80 percent in Japan, the world leader in MRSA; 44 percent in Israel; and 38 percent in Greece.

In the U.S., cases have soared and MRSA cost $6 billion last year. Rates have gone up from 2 percent in 1974 to 63 percent in 2004. And in the United Kingdom, they rose from about 2 percent in the early 1990s to about 45 percent, although an aggressive control program is now starting to work.

About 1 percent of people in developed countries carry MRSA on their skin. Usually harmless, the bacteria can be deadly when they enter a body, often through a scratch. MRSA spreads rapidly in hospitals where sick people are more vulnerable, but there have been outbreaks in prisons, gyms, even on beaches. When dormant, the bacteria are easily detected by a quick nasal swab and destroyed by antibiotics.

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.”

And if they don’t?

“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,” Liebowitz says, 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.

Martha Mendoza is an AP national writer who reported from Norway and England. Margie Mason is an AP medical writer based in Vietnam, who reported while on a fellowship from The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.

More Flu Shot Reactions

Desiree Jennings: A Flu Shot Gone Wrong

desiree jenningsCourtesy of Desiree Jennings

By Mary Kearl

You may have heard news reports about 25-year-old Desiree Jennings, the girl with the severe reaction to the seasonal flu shot. Her symptoms — the inability to walk forward, but the ability to run forward and walk backwards — even appeared as Google Trends, with searches related to her condition. Some believed it was all just a hoax. Her story is garnering celebrity attention, too — Generation Rescue, the organization founded by Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy to raise awareness about health and safety issues related to vaccines — has reached out to support Jennings.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises against getting a flu shot if you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous flu shot. Additionally, if you have a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome — a condition which includes symptoms of fever, nerve damage and muscle weakness — that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine, you shouldn’t get the seasonal flu shot. The risk of “serious harm” or death from a flu shot, the CDC’s Web site explains, “is extremely small. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.”

Jennings, a Northern Virginian and AOL Employee (Full disclosure: This reporter and Desiree Jennings have never worked together before this interview.), who was healthy, training for a half marathon and a Washington Redskins Ambassador preparing to become a cheerleader, never suspected the health complications she is living with now. She is suffering from acute, viral post immunization encephalopathy and mercury toxicity with secondary respiratory and neurological deficits, which she believes is the direct result of the seasonal vaccination she received from her local grocery store chain in August 2009.

Initial reports and diagnoses indicated Jennings had dystonia, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that are sometimes painful. But, as of the most recent interview, Jennings’s treating physician believes she has acute, viral post immmunization encephalopathy, or a disease of the brain that alters brain function or structure and can include memory loss and personality changes.

In an interview with AOL Health, Jennings, she explains her diagnosis and how her life is forever changed. Watch the video below to hear Jennings talk about her condition.

Click Here to see Entire Interview: