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Multidrug-resistant bacteria spreading in Finland

VRE bacteria can cause serious infections especially in people who have a compromised immune system.

In 2018, there was a clear increase in the number of detected cases of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) in Finland compared to the previous year. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Bacteria resistant to different antibiotics are becoming more common in Finland, according to the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) in an analysis published on Monday to coincide with European Antibiotic Awareness Day. THL has referenced data from recent reports documenting the current state of antimicrobial resistance across Europe.

In 2018, there was a clear increase in the number of detected cases of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) in Finland as compared to the previous year.

VRE are bacteria that have developed resistance to many antibiotics and can cause serious infections, especially in people who are ill or have a compromised immune system.

Situation better than elsewhere in Europe

The occurrence of VRE has been spreading steadily in the European Economic Area since 2015. However, the numbers of multidrug-resistant bacteria found in Finland are still notably smaller than in Europe on average.

"Resistant bacteria are growing in Finland. We are at a much lower level than in Europe, but the trend is moving upwards. We must take measures to keep the situation in check, ”said THL medical expert Emmi Sarvikivi.

The proportion of antibiotic-resistant strains of E.coli called ESBL (Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing) and CPE bacteria (carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae) have also increased in Finland.

While ESBL can cause urinary tract infections, CPE bacteria can lead to other difficult-to-treat infections, particularly in intensive care patients.

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health. Each year over 700,000 people die worldwide from antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases.

Antibiotic consumption differs by region

Earlier this month, a study revealed that prescriptions for antibiotics in Finland have fallen by a third in the last 10 years.

Using figures from the social insurance institution Kela, researchers found that the number of antibiotic prescriptions fell by 29 percent between the years 2008 and 2018. This means one million fewer prescriptions were written last year than ten years previously.

However, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, effective against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, has not reduced, and the figures differ from region to region, according to a report titled Consumption of Antimicrobials in Finland 2011–2018.

This is partly due to the fact that guidelines are not as widely available or adhered to, Sarvikivi stated.

The report has revealed that in the Kymenlaakso Hospital District, antibiotics are used in excess of 20 doses per day per thousand inhabitants, while in Central Finland and Vaasa the corresponding figure is less than 15 doses.

On average, Finland uses 17 doses of antibiotics per day per thousand inhabitants, which is about the same as in the other Nordic countries. In 2018, the average number in Europe was 20 doses.

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