Update from Italy: Friday Morning

Photo by Calvin Hanson on Unsplash

The Italian government has asked the Italian media to tone down their coverage of the virus, so infection statistics are no longer available on the website of La Repubblica, the Italian New York Times. I am continuing to check and get numbers from the Worldometer site which seems to provide a decent and sober aggregation of facts with no sensationalism, editorialism, or speculation.

I have been fielding questions from friends stateside about what is happening here. The main spreads of infection in Italy remain in Lombardy and the Venice region. A patient zero has not yet been identified. La Repubblica reports that a cluster of four patients seem to contain patient zero within the group. I am all eyes on this for more news.

Florence seems quieter, but business as usual. Our kids are in school and have been all week. We’re both working and going into our respective offices. The grocery stores are stocked. Pharmacies are open. Hospitals are on alert. This seems normal to me, given the news. What is less usual is the departure of hundreds of American students from Florence. It is not necessarily that they’ll contact the infection – many certainly will, either in Florence or at home in the U.S. The primary concern is the difficulty in isolating and quarantining a student-aged person, or a cluster of infected students. They live in shared housing of 40 to 50 students, or in apartment shares. It would be difficult for Italian hospitals to make space for medical quarantine when Italy (and think about this) has a significant ageing and vulnerable population. On the downside, most travel insurance excludes global pandemics – maybe something to think of the next time you purchase a policy. This is negatively impacting student return travel.

And people, note. Those floppy surgical masks only protect other people from your sneezes and coughs. They won’t protect you from infection. Those lawnmower mask things are also, and of course, not 100% effective. Make sure you’re covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, do so into your elbow, and review your hand-washing skills. And dispose of dirty tissues toute de suite.

A word on symptoms: sneezing and sniffling are not noted as primary symptoms of this infection. It’s a flu bug; it will start with a headache, body ache, and fever, followed by a persistent, dry cough. From there, if the person’s immune system doesn’t beat it, it progresses to pneumonia. Respiratory failure. That is the cause of death, I suspect, in many of these cases.

Worth stating here again: this virus, like all flu viruses, is hitting the elderly and immuno-compromised much harder than younger and healthier people – 8% mortality in the over-70, and 14.8% in the over-80 crowd. I don’t think (touch wood) many of us would suffer gravely from this infection, but any one of us could easily pass it on to an older or immuno-compromised person who would suffer. There is no vaccine. They are the ones we need to think of and protect first.

Finally, for a little context (I personally like a lot of context), see this current global epidemics list from the WHO. We live on a busy and crowded planet. There’s a lot of stuff going on, always.