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HEALTH

Italy awards knighthoods to 57 coronavirus heroes

From nurses to medical researchers, teachers to volunteers, the Italian president has honoured dozens of people who helped others during Italy's coronavirus epidemic.

Italy awards knighthoods to 57 coronavirus heroes
Healthcare workers at Tor Vergata hospital in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

President Sergio Mattarella this week awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Italy's highest honour, to 57 people who stood out for their community service during the Covid-19 emergency.

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They include Annalisa Malara and Laura Ricevuti, two doctors in Lombardy who helped the first Italian coronavirus patient make a full recovery, as well as biologist Maria Rosaria Capobianchi and eight of her colleagues at the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome who helped isolate the DNA sequence of the novel virus.

Maurizio Cecconi, head of the anaesthesia and intensive care unit at Humanitas Hospital in Milan and one of the first doctors to warn colleagues around the world about the gravity of the new illness, was also knighted. So was Elena Pagliarini, a nurse in Cremona whose picture went viral when she was shown slumped over a desk in exhaustion at the end of her shift.

Pagliarini, who contracted the coronavirus but has since recovered, said that the honour was “very moving for me and for the whole nursing sector I represent”. 

Hospital cleaner Concetta D’Isanto, who works in a hospital in Milan, was knighted on behalf of cleaning staff everywhere, the president's office said.

There were also honours for other non-healthcare workers who helped in whatever way they could: like Alessandro Bellantoni, a taxi driver from Calabria who drove a 3-year-old child 1,300 km for free so she could see cancer specialists in Rome at the height of the pandemic.

Knighthoods also went to Riccardo Emanuele Tiritiello, a student in Milan who along with his father and grandfather cooked free meals for doctors and nurses, and Francesco Pepe, a restaurant owner in Campania who used his kitchen to bake for elderly people and others in need.

READ ALSO: Solidarity food baskets hang from Naples balconies to help those in need

Others were honoured for their generosity, including Mahmoud Lufti Ghuniem, a food delivery rider who spent over half of what he earns in a month buying 1,000 face masks that he donated to the Red Cross in Turin, and Rosa Maria Lucchetti, a supermarket cashier in Le Marche who gave emergency call operators three prepaid cards of €250 each to spend on groceries.

Another knighthood went to Piero Floreno, a long-time sufferer from severe motor neurone disease who offered a public hospital in Piedmont one of his two ventilators for use by Covid-19 patients.

Other people gave their time and skills, such as Maxime Mbanda, a player on Italy's national rugby union team who volunteered as an ambulance assistant in Parma, teacher Cristina Avancini, who continued giving remote lessons in Vicenza despite the fact that her contract had expired, and Irene Coppola, a fashion designer from Gallipoli who sewed through the night to make more than 1,000 face masks and helped create a see-through version for people who lip-read.

Renato Favero and Cristian Fracassi, a doctor and an engineer in Lombardy who worked together on a way to adapt high-street snorkelling masks into emergency oxygen masks, were also knighted.


Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

While the honours went to individuals, they symbolize the joint efforts made by many more people in Italy “in the name of solidarity and constitutional values”, the president's office said in a statement.

The knighthoods were announced on June 2nd, the day Italy celebrates the founding of its modern republic.

The national holiday is traditionally one of two occasions per year when Italy awards knighthoods for “merit acquired by the nation”.

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HEALTH

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

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

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

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

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

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.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

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

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

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

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