Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have coronavirus antibodies: study

Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have probably developed coronavirus antibodies, according to a nationwide study, more than six times the number of people who tested positive for the new virus.

Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have coronavirus antibodies: study
People gather outside the Pantheon in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Preliminary results from thousands of blood tests conducted across Italy in the past two months suggest that the number of people exposed to the coronavirus was far higher than the number of infections officially confirmed – 248,229 to date.

According to the Ministry of Health, 1.482 million people – the equivalent of 2.5 percent of the entire population of Italy – are believed to have coronavirus antibodies in their blood, which indicates that they have been exposed to the virus and had an immune response, but not whether they're safe from catching it again.

The findings are based on nearly 65,000 blood tests on a cross-section of Italian residents, carried out between late May and mid July by the Italian Red Cross on behalf of the Health Ministry and national statistics office Istat.

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

More than a quarter of people found to have antibodies, 27.3 percent, never developed any symptoms of Covid-19, which the health ministry said emphasised the importance of following social distancing and hygiene rules to avoid spreading the virus unwittingly.

“The rate of 2.5 percent might seem low but it can become problematic if we're not cautious,” said Gian Carlo Blangiardo, president of Istat, as the researchers presented their first results on Monday.

“It means that the probability of encountering someone positive for the virus is 2.5; if I encounter 20 people, there's a 50 percent chance I'll come into contact with someone positive.”


The rate was significantly higher in parts of northern Italy, where most of Italy's coronavirus cases have been recorded.

In Lombardy, the northern region with the biggest number of infections by far, 7.5 percent of people tested had coronavirus antibodies – three times the national average. In the worst affected province of Bergamo, the rate was as high as 24 percent.

The highest regional rates were all in the north of Italy, while they were below the national average almost everywhere in the centre and especially the south. At the lowest end of the scale, the rate among residents of Sicily and Sardinia was just 0.3 percent.

Predictably, antibodies were more prevalent in health workers, 5.6 percent of whom showed signs of exposure. There was also an elevated rate among people working in restaurants, 4.1 percent. 

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The results showed that government containment measures and public caution had helped control the spread of coronavirus in Italy, said Health Minister Roberto Speranza. But “even if we're out of the storm, we're not yet at a safe port,” he added, urging Italians not to let down their guard.

Having antibodies in your blood does not necessarily mean that you're immune to coronavirus. It's not yet known whether people with antibodies can catch the virus again, or how soon. 

The researchers carried out 64,660 blood tests between May 25th and July 15th. Participants came from a sample of 150,000 people across 2,000 municipalities and a range of ages and professions who were originally invited to take part. All of those selected lived with other members of their family, i.e. not alone, with housemates or in nursing homes.

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Italian monkeypox cases rise to ten

Monkeypox infections have now been confirmed in four Italian regions, Italian health authorities said on Thursday.

Italian monkeypox cases rise to ten

The total number of Italian monkeypox cases rose to ten on Thursday with the discovery of the first case in the Emilia-Romagna region.

There have now been five cases detected the Lazio region, which are being treated in Rome, plus three in Lombardy, and one each in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.

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

“There is no alarm, but the infection surveillance system is at a state of maximum attention,” Lazio’s regional health councillor Alessio D’Amato told the Ansa news agency after the seventh case was reported on Wednesday.

Researchers at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases said the new cases are thought to be “part of a pan-European cluster” linked to cases in the Canary Islands, Ansa reported.

The first Italian case of monkey smallpox, or monkeypox, was also found in a man who had recently returned from the Canary Islands, doctors said last Thursday.

On Thursday morning the Italian health ministry published guidance on dealing with outbreaks of monkeypox as case numbers continued to rise across Europe.

More than 250 monkeypox cases have now been reported in at least 16 countries where the virus isn’t endemic, according to the World Health Organization.

They are mostly in Spain, the UK and Portugal, with single-digit cases in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as Italy.

READ ALSO: What is Spain doing to deal with rising monkeypox cases?

The illness has infected thousands of people in parts of Central and Western Africa in recent years, but is rare in Europe and North Africa.

Monkeypox is known to spread via close contact with an animal or human with the virus. It can be transmitted via bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets or through contaminated materials, such as bedding.

Its symptoms are similar but somewhat milder than those of smallpox: fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, chills, exhaustion, although it also causes the lymph nodes to swell up.

Within one to three days, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. 

Although most monkeypox cases aren’t serious, studies have shown that one in ten people who contract the disease in Africa die from it.

The unprecedented outbreak of the monkeypox virus has put the international community on alert.

On Monday, the European Union urged member states to take steps to ensure positive cases, close contacts, and even pets be quarantined as this is a zoonotic virus (a virus that spreads from animals to humans).