The government has set a target to halve MRSA rates
There has been a big drop in MRSA infections leaving the target to halve the rate all but hit, figures show.
Cases in England fell by 11% from January to March to 966 cases - just three away from its target.
The government has until the next quarter to hit the target set by then health secretary John Reid in 2004.
But the Clostridium difficile rate has risen by 6% during the same period, reversing a trend of steady falls, Health Protection Agency data showed.
However, compared to the same quarter last year the total of 10,586 cases in the over 65s represents a 32% reduction.
The fall in MRSA cases suggests the government has got to grips with the superbug.
When the March 2008 target was set, it was widely seen as unachievable. Even within the Department of Health, leaked documents last year showed there was serious concern it would be missed.
The government will not formally measure the target until the results of the April to June quarter are revealed in the autumn - although this has proved controversial with many expecting ministers to take the January to March period.
But the drop now is being welcomed, with the target virtually hit ahead of the government's schedule.
HPA infections expert Dr Georgia Duckworth said: "The substantial drop is impressive and a credit to the hard work of our colleagues in the NHS."
It also meant the number of cases for 2007-8 at just over 4,438 cases was a third lower than it was the year before.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said it was a "remarkable" achievement.
It comes after hospitals have employed more staff with responsibility for infection control and the government has tightened the regulation of cleanliness in the NHS.
Mr Johnson said: "Our strategy is clearly having an impact, with our challenging target now within touching distance, but this is not an issue we can be complacent about and we will continue to focus our efforts on reducing infections further."
Graham Tanner, chairman of the patient group National Concern for Healthcare Infections, said the results were "good news".
But he added: "It should be remembered that over the last four years over 20,000 patients have suffered an MRSA infection and in excess of 200,000 have contracted C difficile."
And the Tories accused the government of manipulating the target. They pointed out that if it was measured in the year leading up to March 2008, they would have missed by some margin.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the government had "dithered and delayed" on hospital infections and only hit the target by "moving the goalposts".
Elsewhere in the UK, rates of MRSA are falling in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although in Wales they have remained fairly steady for the last four years.