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HEALTH

Italian health minister suggests Covid swab testing at all EU airports

All travellers at airports across Europe should be swab tested for the novel coronavirus, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza proposed on Wednesday.

Italian health minister suggests Covid swab testing at all EU airports
Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: AFP
“Therefore if someone from Italy goes to Madrid or Paris they are tested on arrival, and so is someone from Spain or France who arrives in Italy,” he said in an address to the Italian Senate. “Clearly the measure must be implemented for all citizens, regardless of nationality.”
 
He said the current situation across the EU, in which some countries enforce mandatory testing for travellers coming from certain other countries, is causing diplomatic tensions.
 
 
Quarantine rules and Italy's policy of mandatory swabs for people returning from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain is being perceived as “unfriendly”, he said.
 
“Since we have to live with the virus for several months, let's work on the reciprocity of measures and between large European countries we can set a good example. Let us test each other, starting at the airports,” he said, according to Italian news agency AGI.
 
Speranza suggested such a policy could remove the need for stricter measures like border closures in future.
 
He said Italy would formally present the proposal at a meeting of EU health ministers this Friday.
 
While the number of new Covid-19 cases detected in Italy has risen again in recent weeks, it is still far lower than that in some other European countries such as neighbouring France and Spain.
 
 
Italian government health advisors deny there is a “second wave” on the way and insist the new outbreaks can be kept under control with more proactive testing and tracing.
 
Italian authorities reported 1,326 new cases on Wednesday and four more fatalities. Overall, Italy has seen 271,515 cases and 35,497 Covid-19-related deaths since the beginning of the outbreak
 
Speranza also told senators on Wednesday that Italy's current rules aimed at stemming the spread of the virus – including on travel, mask-wearing and social distancing – would be extended beyond September 7th, when they are up for review.

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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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