The number of antibiotic-resistant MRSA infections in England has fallen to the lowest since recording began, official figures show.
MRSA is an infection resistant to antibiotics
Labour hailed the latest figures as a "turning point" in its efforts to combat the potentially deadly superbug.
But the Tories said the figures failed to tell the full story, and accused Labour of "pre-election trickery".
In six months to September 2004, 3,519 NHS patients were treated for MRSA infection.
This was a year-on-year drop of 6.3%. In London there were 654 MRSA cases, compared to 819 in the six months to September 2003.
But the numbers were patchy, with some areas recording more cases.
The government has introduced a range of measures to combat the superbug, including putting matrons in charge of ward hygiene, and campaigns to promote hand-washing.
The need for a concerted effort was underlined by Office for National Statistics published last month which showed the number of deaths linked to MRSA doubled in four years between 1999 and 2003.
Health Secretary John Reid welcomed the figures, saying they showed programmes to cut infections were working.
But he accepted that the infections were still "a problem".
"There is still much more to do," he said.
"That's why I am announcing today that the NHS will pilot a new rapid swab technique to identify patients with MRSA within hours rather than days.
"This will be particularly important in discovering if MRSA is coming into our hospitals with patients, for example, when they are transferred from care homes."
'No stone unturned'
"No stone is being left unturned in the battle against the superbug.
"We are improving cleaning standards, piloting the latest science, rolling out 'clean your hands' and making sure infection control is a fully staffed priority for every NHS trust."
Dr Reid has ordered figures to be published every six months to keep the public better informed.
MRSA is blamed for 20% of the 5,000 deaths in hospitals every year from infections.
Conservative leader Michael Howard had made MRSA infections one of the main targets in attacks on the health service under Labour.
The Tories pointed out the latest figures cover only the summer months - MRSA infections tend to peak in winter.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "This announcement smacks of pre-election trickery. Today's statistics fail to provide a full and rounded picture.
"Monthly variations may exist but 5,000 people die annually from Hospital Acquired Infections, more than are killed on Britain's roads," he said.
"Rates of MRSA have doubled under Blair's Government, yet after eight years they try to blame the Conservatives for their failure."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said more compulsory training of NHS staff on infection control was essential.
He also called for more pre-admission screening and better information.
The Patients Association said the figures bore no relationship to what they were being told by patients "on the ground".
The public services union Unison said the only way to combat MRSA was to hire more cleaning staff.
The new swab technique will identify patients coming into hospitals with MRSA within two hours rather than several days.
It will be piloted in two hospitals, in Birmingham and London.