Italy’s coronavirus infection rate falls to lowest level since October

The pressure from Covìd-19 on Italy’s hospitals is starting to ease and new cases are at a more manageable level, the health ministry’s latest data report on Friday said.

Italy's coronavirus infection rate falls to lowest level since October
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

All indicators in the nation’s latest weekly coronavirus monitoring report, compiled by Italian health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS), showed another decrease in the coronavirus numbers.

The national average weekly coronavirus incidence rate and Rt number had fallen again, while the average daily number of new coronavirus cases is now below 4,000 for the first time since October 10th, the latest data showed.

The number of new cases in 24 hours on Friday was 3.738, while there were 126 deaths reported.

The report showed that the weekly incidence rate was down to 47 per 100,000 inhabitants, from 66 per 100,000 for the previous week.

This is the first time this year that the incidence rate has been below 50 per 100,000 – the threshold which the ISS says “allows the containment of new cases” as it is low enough for the country’s track and trace system to work effectively.

The Rt number – – the reproduction rate, used to calculate how fast the virus is spreading – has also fallen again, dropping to 0.72 from 0.78 last week..

The figure is now at its lowest since almost exactly a year ago.

An Rt over 1 means that the epidemic is in a phase of expansion. 

The report on Friday said all of Italy’s regions have an Rt below 1 and can be considered low risk.

It said the percentage of intensive care beds used by Covid patients was now down to 15%, and was not above the critical threshold of 30% in any region.

As planned, the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Molise and Sardinia will move into the lowest-risk “white” zone from Monday, the health ministry confirmed.

Abruzzo, Veneto and Liguria are expected to turn white the week after.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will be Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

There are strict criteria for being able to pass into a white zone. In this category most restrictions are relaxed, including the 11pm curfew, with only face masks and social distancing rules still in place.

To be declared a white zone, a region must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and an Rt number below 1 for three weeks in a row.

On Friday, Italy’s Covid-19 emergency commissioner said that vaccination appointment bookings would be opened to all age groups from next week,

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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.