Press Release: “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria”
FRONTLINE INVESTIGATES THE RISE OF DEADLY, DRUG-RESISTANT BACTERIA THAT MODERN ANTIBIOTICS CAN’T STOP
Addie Rerecich was a happy 11-year-old girl who loved sports and talked a mile a minute. But when a mysterious pain in her hip landed her in the hospital in 2011, she began a downward spiral into the nightmare of a new kind of antibiotic-resistant infection that is confounding doctors across the world.
Addie’s precipitous decline might sound unusual, but as FRONTLINE reports in Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 10 p.m. (check local PBS listings), medicine’s struggle with deadly drug-resistant infections is becoming all too real.
“The world is entering a post-antibiotic era. Doctors tell me there are patients for whom we have no therapy. The bacteria are growing stronger, and the drug pipeline is drying up,” says award-winning journalist David E. Hoffman, who investigates the crisis for FRONTLINE.
In Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria, Hoffman examines the alarming rise of superbugs that our modern antibiotics can’t stop—from Addie Rerecich’s case to that of David Ricci, who brings a nasty infection home from India, and to a rare look inside an uncontrollable outbreak at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center—the NIH—one of the nation’s most prestigious research hospitals, where 19 patients were sickened and seven died.
“The rise of antimicrobial resistance is a threat to us all. Prominent public health officials are using words like ‘nightmare’ and ‘catastrophic,’” Hoffman says. “But even though we’ve known about this problem for decades, the alarms have not been met with similar levels of urgency in the public or the government.”
As FRONTLINE reports, after decades of antibiotic overuse, the crisis of untreatable infections has only deepened. Most major drug companies, squeezed by Wall Street expectations and facing steep scientific hurdles, have abandoned the development of new antibiotics. The film takes viewers behind the story of one major drug company’s efforts to overcome the new drug-resistant superbugs—and why, despite those efforts, the drug pipeline is running dry.
“Twenty-five years ago, there were more than 25 large companies working to discover and develop new antibiotics,” infectious disease doctor Brad Spellberg tells FRONTLINE. “Now there’s two, maybe three.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that these superbugs are now spreading in frightening ways with alarming speed, both across the globe and inside hospitals—though few hospitals are willing to talk about the problem publicly.
But FRONTLINE was granted unprecedented access to the NIH, where some of the nation’s top clinical specialists struggled to control the spread of a deadly outbreak in 2011. The specialists remain confounded—and their experience has serious implications for the rest of the country: These new threats have been found in almost every state.
“The average person thinks, ‘Oh, I have an infection, I take an antibiotic, I get better,’” says nurse Tonya Rerecich, whose daughter Addie’s story is featured in the FRONTLINE report. “Yeah, it’s not that simple anymore.”
Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria is a FRONTLINE production with American University School of Communication’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.
The director and producer is Rick Young. The co-producer and editor is Anthony Szulc. The correspondent is David E. Hoffman. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. The series has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 65 Emmy Awards and 14 Peabody Awards. More than 150 FRONTLINE films can be watched online at pbs.org/frontline.
FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund. Major funding for Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria is provided by The Kendeda Fund. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation.
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