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40 percent of coronavirus carriers in Italian town show no symptoms, study finds

More than 40 percent of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in one Italian town showed no signs of being ill, according to research published on Tuesday, indicating that asymptomatic carriers may be significant spreaders of the virus.

40 percent of coronavirus carriers in Italian town show no symptoms, study finds
Soldiers at the town of Vo' Euganeo in Veneto (north-east Italy) in March. File photo: AFP
The authors said their research showed how important mass testing and isolating carriers was in containing clusters of the virus.
 
The town of Vo' Euganeo, population 3,200, in the Veneto region is where Italy's first death from the disease was recorded in late February.  It was immediately placed under lockdown, during which time researchers were able to test more than 85 percent of the population for Covid-19.
 
They found that 2.3 percent of Vo was infected at the beginning, compared with 1.2 percent at the end of lockdown, and that more than 40 percent of those who tested positive showed no symptoms.
 
Photo: AFP
 
The authors of the research, published in the journal Nature, said their findings showed how rapid case isolation and mass testing was able to effectively eliminate the virus from Vo.
 
“Testing of all citizens, whether or not they have symptoms, provides a way to manage the spread of disease and prevent outbreaks getting out of hand,” said Andrea Crisanti, of the Department of Molecular Medicine of the University of Padua and the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London.
 
“Despite 'silent' and widespread transmission, the disease can be controlled.”
 
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The team found that asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers had a similar viral load to those who got sick, suggesting that while not ill themselves they could still spread the virus.
 
“Even asymptomatic infections have the potential to contribute to transmission,” said Enrico Lavezzo, from the University of Padua, who contributed to the study.
 
This was particularly noteworthy for policymakers seeking to limit COVID-19 clusters from spreading, he said.
 
“An asymptomatic infection is entirely unconscious of carrying the virus and, according to their lifestyle and occupation, could meet a large number of people without modifying their behaviour,” said Lavezzo.
 
The data from Vo also showed that none of the children under the age of 10 tested positive for COVID-19 despite living with several adults who did.
 
A Europe-wide study released last week showed that children are extremely unlikely to die from COVID-19, and age is known to be a key risk factor for the virus' mortality.
 
Co-author Ilaria Dorigatti, from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial, said the findings were relevant for governments as lockdowns are eased around the world.
 
“The Vo study demonstrates that the early identification of infection clusters and the timely isolation of symptomatic as well as asymptomatic infections can suppress transmission and curb an epidemic in its early phase,” she said.
 
See all of The Local's coverage of the coronavirus crisis in Italy here.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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