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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Where is the Delta variant spreading in Italy?

As the Italian government confirmed on Friday that the country is seeing more outbreaks caused by the Delta variant of coronavirus, we look at where the clusters being detected around the country.

Coronavirus: Where is the Delta variant spreading in Italy?
Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

Until now, the risk posed by Delta in Italy has largely been dismissed by Italian authorities, who were describing its presence as “rare” in the country as recently as last week

However, this week authorities are re-evaulating their strategy for mitigating the risks posed by the more infectious new strain after Italy’s independent health watchdog, the GIMBE Foundation, criticised the government for its response.

The health ministry on Friday instructed regional health authorities to carry out more tracing and sequencing of variants after the Higher Health Institute (ISS) revised its figures, now estimating that the number of infections caused by the Delta and Kappa variants in Italy have increased by 16.8 percent in June, up from 4.2 percent in May.

READ ALSO:Italian health experts warn about Delta variant as vaccine progress slows

“From our epidemiological surveillance, a rapidly evolving picture emerges that confirms that also in our country, as in the rest of Europe, the Delta variant of the virus is becoming prevalent,” said Anna Teresa Palamara, director of ISS’s infectious diseases department.

According to the latest ISS data, the SARS-CoV-2 variant prevalent in Italy was found to be the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), responsible for 74.9 of cases. This is now also the most prevalent globally.

Cases associated with Kappa and Delta variants (B.1.617.1/2) “are few overall in January to June”, the report added. But it stated that the frequency and spread of these reports has rapidly increased across the country.

The new ISS figure however is still lower than GIMBE’s estimate on Thursday that Delta now accounts for as much as 32 percent of cases.

Coronavirus: How much is the Delta variant spreading in Italy?

So how prevalent is the strain really and where is it being detected?

Several regions have already reported cases of the Delta variant, though the amount of test result sequencing and analysis carried out by local health authorities in Italy varies and is often low.

Each region volunteers to do genetic sequencing of positive swabs, which means that Italy has less data available about the spread of variants than countries where sequencing is more widespread and systematic, such as the UK or Denmark.

Following the latest health monitoring report on Friday, more local health authorities have said they will now start taking steps to identify the new strain in order to better understand the development of the outbreak.

For now, here are the regions providing Delta-strain data this week, and the data available on cases confirmed so far.

Emilia Romagna – Lombardy

25 positive cases have been found between Piacenza in Emilia Romagna and Cremona in Lombardy, detected in a logistics hub involving employees and their family and friends.

“We have contacted about 800 people to undergo a swab as part of the contact tracing of the coronavirus for the Delta variant outbreak in the Piacenza area, but almost 300 of them have yet to show up for the test,” Marco Delledonne, head of Piacenza’s public health department, told TV chat show ‘Mattino 5′, reported news agency Ansa.

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

“Now we are also activating the local police to track them down because they are not being found,” he added.

The director general of Piacenza’s health authority, Luca Baldino said tests “would be compulsory but people are escaping,” according to the news report. He added that the infected were “all unvaccinated”, both the workers and their friends and relatives.

Lombardy’s councillor for welfare, Letizia Moratti, stated the Delta variant counts for a total of 3.25 percent of all cases, reported news website Adnkronos.

From the data collected so far in June on the new virus strains in Lombardy, the Alpha variant, first identified in England, is dominant with 64 percent of the total number of variants, followed by the Indian (Delta 3.25 percent, Kappa 0.8 percent), the Brazilian (1 percent) and the South African (2 percent).

Campania

83 cases of Delta variant have been recorded in the areas of ‘Napoli 3 Sud’, a grouping of 56 municipalities, which include Sorrento and Pompeii, reported Ansa.

None of the cases has required hospitalisation so far. Of the 83 cases, 44 have been identified in an outbreak in Torre del Greco in Naples, the municipality with the highest number of inhabitants in the whole local health authority.

“We are working to try to identify ‘patient 1’. The same goes for the case of the cluster detected in a gymnasium in Agerola, where about 10 cases have been recorded. We are also working to trace all the close contacts of the positive subjects,” said the health director of Campania’s health authority, Gaetano D’Onofrio.

“We must make a clear distinction between cases and relapses in hospitals. It is true that recently there have been more infections in relation to the so-called Delta variant, but it is also true that this has not affected the health structures,” he added.

Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The Alpha variant is the dominant strain in this region followed by the Delta variant and then the Brazilian variant, according to the vice-governor of the region’s health authorities, Riccardo Riccardi, reported Ansa.

In a sample of 96 cases detected in the region, the presence of the Alpha variant was found in 50 cases, spread across Gorizia, Trieste, Pordenone and Udine.

As for the Delta variant, there were 28 cases in the sample across Trieste, Pordenone and Gorizia.

Abruzzo

At least five Delta variant cases have been identified in the Teramo and Chieti areas of this region, reported Abruzzo Live.

The new cases emerged from the analysis of 3,378 molecular swabs with just over 1 percent of the samples testing positive.

Three cases were reported by the Teramo Local Health Authority, one reported in the Chieti area and one in Vasto.

Sardinia

15 people were found to be infected with the Delta strain in the north of the island, following the discovery of 22 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among crew members involved in the filming of the Disney movie, ‘The Little Mermaid’, reported newspaper Il Messaggero.

The presence of the variant was detected by genome sequencing carried out by a hospital laboratory in Sassari, which is now also working on sequencing the Brazilian variant.

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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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