At the end of October, the neonatal care unit in Naples's new Policlinico hospital, one of the most advanced in Italy, was forced to close after an outbreak of drug-resistant, Acinetobacter infection, which can attack babies' urinary and respiratory tracts – and is often fatal. The head of the department, Dr Robert Paludetto, said the decision to close the department was immediate given the bacterium's contagiousness.

According to the Italian Association of Microbiologists, the AMCLI, 15,000 Italians a year are victims of dangerous infections acquired in hospital; many of these are drug-resistant, and the proportion of hard-to-treat cases is rising. In some instances there have been deadly mass outbreaks.

Among the most notorious of these was the mass outbreak of acinetobacter at Rome's Aurelia Garofalo hospital two years ago. In just nine months, from January to September 2009, there were 80 cases of the multi-drug resistant infection that experts say spreads in environments where hygiene is poor. Of 80 patients, 26 died.

But individual tragedies are legion. Last year Antonella Mansueto, 22, entered the Putignano hospital in Puglia for the removal of a cyst. She died six week later, in agony, from a superbug. Soon after, prosecutors in Sicily opened an inquiry into the death of Carmelo Finocchiaro, 33, who died 10 days after simple surgery at Cannizzaro Hospital.