The cabinet unanimously approved Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri's request Sunday to establish a national body for fighting hospital bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The center will coordinate all data relating to these bacteria and develop programs to fight the phenomenon, including the encouragement of hand disinfection between patients by hospital staffers and discouragement of unnecessary prescription of antibiotics. Ben-Yizri said he welcomed the establishment of the center, which will help fight nosocomial (hospital-based) infections in view of the growing number of antibiotics that are unable to kill these bacteria. The center will have eight workers, mostly epidemiologists. It will not have the mandate to build more isolation rooms, hire more nursing staff or expand the number of beds in the public sector, which would cost billions of shekels. The Health Ministry has a long-term plan to build three more hospitals, adding 900 beds, and to expand their number in existing hospitals for 3,000 more, thus alleviating crowding and improve sanitary conditions in hospitals. But such an effort has been declared "unnecessary" by the Finance Ministry. "The Health Ministry has prepared an emergency program to fight resistant bacteria and has established a special team for this. I am sure that the ministry's energetic action on this subject will now hope to cope better and more efficiently against antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the future," Ben-Yizri said. Almost three weeks ago, after an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria was reported in several hospitals, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Ben-Yizri and Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli and other senior officials to discuss the problem, which may have infected some 400 severely ill hospital patients and killed an estimated 120 to 200 of them in recent months. Olmert, a former health minister, promised to "investigate the matter and to find a solution" to the shortage of manpower, inadequate infrastructure and overcrowding of general hospitals that increases the risk of nosocomial infections. Klebsiella pneumoniae is only one of half a dozen strains of bacteria that are no longer easily overcome by antibiotics. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a worldwide phenomenon and not unique to Israel. Health Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev, who prepared the plan for the center, said it will not absolve all the hospitals from fighting nosocomial infections. "But it is an achievement to persuade the Treasury to allocate NIS 12 million. It will start in the hospitals and then move to action in the community," he said. As for the long-term program to expand hospital infrastructure and manpower, Lev said this is another battle. Lev said he couldn't guess when hospitals would begin to see a difference. "It is a difficult war against resistant bacteria," he explained. "We hope the results will justify the activity. It takes some time before bacteria lose some of their resistance to antibiotics. It takes a long time for doctors and nurses to change behaviors." Lev opposed the idea of punishing family doctors who prescribe antibiotics without first sending patients for a culture to see if they indeed have a bacterial infection or a viral infection against which antibiotics are useless. Education, he said, is the way to change behavior. Lev said the new center may also look at various suggested means to prevent the spread of bacterial infections in hospitals, including the use of special wall paint and copper-infused sheets and towels.