Covid-19: Italy’s mortality rate doubled during worst month of pandemic, study shows

Italy's mortality rate was double that of previous years in March, the worst month of its Covid-19 pandemic, a new report says, showing how badly undercounted initial estimates of the deadliness of the disease may have been.

Covid-19: Italy's mortality rate doubled during worst month of pandemic, study shows
A hospital in the Italian region f Lombardy, which has been hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP
Scientific experts and even the Italian health authorities themselves have said since April that the country's official death toll was likely to be underestimated.
Italy was not the only country to have failed to fully account for deaths linked to the coronavirus. 
Other studies showed that the United States, Peru and Mexico City were among those which largely under-reported the number of people who died from the disease.
In New York, for example, the number of deaths tripled last spring but 22 percent of excess deaths had not been officially reported as coronavirus cases, due to a lack of testing.
To calculate the real toll of the pandemic, demographers and other researchers used not only the number of cases confirmed by tests but also looked at official mortality statistics, based on death certificates, and compared them to previous years, a method often used in researching flu
The results published Monday in the US medical journal “Jama Internal Medicine” showed the devastating toll of the virus in Italy, the first country to bear the full brunt of the pandemic in Europe.
Some Italian hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of Covid-19 cases being admitted in March 2020. Photo: AFP
On April 4th, Italy said it had officially recorded just over 15,000 deaths from Covid-19. 
Between March 1st and April 4th, a total of 41,329 people died in Italy, officials figures show – roughly 20,000 more than in the five preceding years.
That marked an increased mortality of 104.5 percent and suggested there were more than 5,000
deaths missing from the toll attributed to the coronavirus.
The only deaths officially ascribed to Covid-19 at the time were recorded at hospitals and, to a lesser extent, in nursing homes, which would explain the shortfall in the tally.
In Lombardy, the worst-hit region, excess deaths reach 173 percent compared to previous years, a rate which rose to 213 percent among men in the region.
With generalized testing, it becomes easier to count deaths linked to the epidemic in real time.
That is what has since happened in New York, where the gap between the official and the real death tolls has all but disappeared.
Experts in Italy and elsewhere have long said that as testing increases the Covid-19 fatality rate would become more accurate.

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Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Italy recorded a spike in cases of West Nile fever in the past week and remains by far the worst-affected country in Europe, new data shows.

Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Italy has recorded more than 50 new West Nile virus infections in a week, with a total number of 144 cases and ten fatalities this summer so far.

This equated to a 53 percent increase in cases over the last seven days, Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) said in a report published on Thursday.

Three more people died from the virus in the last week, bringing the total death toll up to 10. 

All known cases and deaths so far were in the northern Italian regions of Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

The infection is not new to Italy, but this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

READ ALSO: Italy reports a surge in deaths this summer due to extreme heat

Cases remain relatively rare in Europe overall, but Italy has by far the largest number.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 120 cases were recorded this year so far – 94 of which were in Italy.

Greece reported 23 cases, Romania two and Slovakia one. Only Italy has reported fatalities.

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

West Nile fever cannot pass from human to human and most infected people show no symptoms, according to the ISS.

In healthy people the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

There is no vaccine for West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

Italy’s health authorities advises taking precautions against mosquitos, especially during the insects’ peak activity at sunrise and sunset. Recommendations include:

  • Use repellent.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
  • Sleep in rooms with air-conditioning where possible and keep windows closed or screened.
  • Use mosquito nets.

See more information on West Nile fever in Italy on the health ministry’s website.