New health ministry figures show the summer's fierce heatwave took a much higher toll among Italy's elderly than previously reported, with 7,659 more deaths among the over-65s during the period 16 July-31 August than there were during the same period last year. Preliminary figures released in September suggested there were 4,175 more deaths among the over-65s during the month 16 July-15 August than during the same month in 2002.

By far the greatest number of deaths among the over-65s was registered in Rome, but the biggest increase in mortality occurred in the cities of the north. There were 223 deaths among the over-65s in Trento from 1 June-31 August 2003, 32.7 per cent more than during the same period last year, while there were 2,341 deaths in Turin, a rise of 31.5 per cent. However, there was also a 26.2 per cent increase to 675 deaths among the elderly in Bari in the south, where the death toll rose sharply following the Ferragosto holiday on 15 August. In Rome there were 5,849 deaths among the over-65s between 1 June and 31 August, an increase of 11.5 per cent on the same period in 2002.

Temperatures reached well over 40C in many parts of Italy during July and August.