Virus was direct cause of death for 89% of Italian COVID-19 victims

FILE PHOTO: Medical staff helps a patient before undergoing CT at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center San Pietro FBF, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rome, Italy May 25, 2020. Picture taken May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

ROME (Reuters) - The new coronavirus has directly caused the death of 9 out of 10 of Italian COVID-19 victims, a study released on Thursday said, shedding new light on the epidemic which mainly struck the country’s northern regions.

Since discovering its first infections in February, Italy has reported some 35,000 COVID-19 fatalities.

However, health authorities said many of those who died were also affected by other ailments and this provoked a fierce debate on whether the virus was the actual cause of death.

The study published by the Superior Health Institute and National Statistics Institute ISTAT showed the coronavirus was the direct cause of death for 89% of the 4,942 victims in the sample.

The remaining 11% had coronavirus but died as a direct result of other medical conditions, including heart disease cancer and dementia. However, the virus might have aggravated their condition and accelerated their death.

The study was based on deaths reported at the end of May, when Italy had already loosened its rigid lockdown rules.

Pneumonia was observed in 79% of the people whose deaths were directly tied to coronavirus and was the most common complication for COVID-19 patients, followed by other respiratory diseases.

The report showed COVID-19 was also fatal for some people who did not have any underlying health problem.

“In 28.2% of the cases analysed, there are no other causes of death,” the report said.

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Giles Elgood