Background: In the early 1990s there was an increase in erythromycin resistance among group A streptococci in Finland. In response, policies regarding outpatient antibiotic therapy were changed, and nationwide recommendations were issued that called for reductions in the use of macrolide antibiotics for respiratory and skin infections in outpatients. We studied the effect of this policy on the pattern of erythromycin resistance throughout Finland.
Methods: From 1991 through 1996, a total of 39,247 group A streptococcal isolates from throat swabs (82 percent of the isolates) and pus samples (18 percent) and 290 isolates from blood cultures were studied in regional microbiology laboratories. The susceptibility of the isolates to erythromycin was tested by the disk-diffusion or the screening-plate method.
Results: Consumption of macrolide antibiotics decreased from 2.40 defined daily doses per 1000 inhabitants per day in 1991 to 1.38 in 1992 (P=0.007) and remained near the lower level during the study period. The change in consumption was followed by a steady decrease in the frequency of erythromycin resistance among group A streptococcal isolates from throat swabs and pus samples, from 16.5 percent in 1992 to 8.6 percent in 1996 (odds ratio for 1996 as compared with 1992, 0.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.4 to 0.5).
Conclusions: In Finland, after nationwide reductions in the use of macrolide antibiotics for outpatient therapy, there was a significant decline in the frequency of erythromycin resistance among group A streptococci isolated from throat swabs and pus samples.