Battling the Superbugs

A film by Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette
Length: 45 minutes

The worldwide spread of new superbacteria is making doctors worry. The most widespread and dangerous among these hospital germs is called MRSA (multi-resistant staphylococcus aureus). In Germany alone, 15,000 patients are infected with it each year; twice that figure in France. As the name implies, MRSA is resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics. And this germ is becoming more and more aggressive. The number of medications that can still be deployed effectively against it is sinking from year to year. MRSA can lead to wound infections, pneumonia, sepsis, and can often be fatal. Throughout Europe, around 50,000 people die due to this killer germ each year.
Superbacteria like MRSA have been around for more than 40 years, but in countries like Germany or France the problem was underestimated for a long time. The consequence: The germ disperses itself so heavily that today clinics can barely keep it in check. Even the strictest preventive hygiene procedures are unable to drop the risk of infection during an operation to zero.
Ever since penicillin was discovered, doctors have relied on antibiotics to effectively fight bacterial infection. Yet as soon as a new drug was found, a few years later strains of bacteria existed that were already resistant against it. Their march onward proceeded fastest above all in those countries in which antibiotics were used as generously as possible. In contrast, fewer supergerms exist wherever they were dispensed more frugally and in a targeted manner.
Film-makers Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette investigate the question: What is being done at European hospitals to stop the spread of hospital germs? How have doctors and staff in the Netherlands managed to reduce the number of illnesses due to MRSA to almost none? How do these new bacteria spread, germs against which no antibiotic around offers relief anymore? What hope is research offering in terms of vaccines? And: How are patients coping with the fact that they were infected with a superbacteria at a hospital and probably will never be rid of it again?

2009 Journalism Award of the ARGUS foundation for the conservation and development of antibiotics

Produced by Rainer Regensburger, commissioning editor: Linde Dehner (ZDF/ARTE) International Distribution by Telepool