SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19 STATS

Italy’s emergency rooms ‘pushed to limits’ by Covid and flu cases

Doctors have warned that Covid along with a "very rapid" rise in seasonal flu cases means Italy's emergency rooms risk being overwhelmed over the holidays.

Doctors warn that Italy's hospitals risk being overwhelmed over the holidays.
Doctors warn that Italy's hospitals risk being overwhelmed over the holidays. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

Fabio De Iaco, president of the Italian Society of Emergency and Urgent Medicine (Simeu), sounded the alarm on Monday, saying hospital admissions have risen 50 percent since September.

“Flu and Covid are pushing emergency rooms to their limit,” said De Iaco, adding that he fears the problem “can only get worse in the coming weeks.”

Hospitals expect the peak to arrive during the holidays, “when we will have more elderly patients but also more staff off sick.”

The problem is mainly down to a sharp spike in seasonal flu cases, he said. This year’s flu wave began three weeks ago, around a month ahead of usual annual trends.

“We see numbers that pre-pandemic were reached in mid-January,” says De Iaco. 

“Children began to arrive in the emergency room first, but now the age of patients is rising and will increase during the holidays, when viruses are typically passed between generations.”

Silvestro Scotti, general secretary of the Italian Federation of General Practitioners (Fimmg), told news outlets that Italy’s current seasonal flu case numbers are at their highest in 15 years.

READ ALSO: When, where and how to get the flu vaccine in Italy

“Every week a family doctor has about 100 patients who fall ill, which translates into at least two to three calls per week for each one, plus visits and a lot of bureaucracy. We’re practically going crazy,” he said.

At the same time, hospitals are dealing with an influx of Covid patients. While the latest data from the Gimbe health think tank shows a slight decrease in new case numbers, both hospitalisations and intensive care admissions are up.

According to De Iaco, the symptoms of this flu variant (that many Italian outlets are calling the influenza australiana or the ‘Australian flu’) are similar to those for Covid, including a high fever and respiratory difficulties.

This can make it hard for doctors to immediately distinguish between the two, leading to Covid and flu patients mixing in the wards.

“Many arrive with flu symptoms in the emergency room and we discover that it is Covid only at the time of the test,” says De Iaco.

“And for those who test positive we have difficulty finding staff and a place for their isolation.” 

He encouraged patients to stay at home and avoid going to the emergency room unless they were particularly vulnerable, warning that they “face long waits and risk becoming infected with other viruses.”

Doctors are appealing for those who are eligible to get vaccinated against the flu to avoid inundating hospitals.

“It is vital that those at risk choose to get vaccinated as soon as possible, otherwise we risk living through some very serious months,” said Fimmg secretary Scotti.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.