Former Italian prime minister Berlusconi has lung infection caused by leukaemia, doctors say

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has leukaemia. Credit: AP

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is being treated for a lung infection that is a result of chronic leukaemia, his doctors said on Thursday.

The 86-year-old media mogul, who served three terms as Italy's premier and now serves in the Senate, was admitted to intensive care one day ago.

His personal physician, Alberto Zangrillo, signed off on a medical bulletin that said Mr Berlusconi has had leukemia "for some time”, but that the cancer of the blood cells was in a “persistent chronic phase.”

The statement is the first official word from doctors since the former leader was admitted to Milan's San Raffaele Hospital on Wednesday, for treatment of what aides indicated was a respiratory problem stemming from a previous infection.

Luigi Berlusconi, son of Silvio Berlusconi waves to reporters as he arrives at the San Raffaele hospital, in Milan. Credit: AP

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a close political ally, reported that Berlusconi was alert and in stable condition at the hospital on Thursday.

Doctors said the kind of leukaemia afflicting Berlusconi usually appears in people of advanced age and is characterised by an increase in white blood cells known as monocytes.

Treatment for older patients could involve a stem cell transplant, but that could be difficult, according to an Italian non-profit association dedicated to combatting leukaemia.

Another treatment would involve controlling the white blood cell count.

Mr Berlusconi's party whip in the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament, Paolo Barelli, told reporters that he “is responding to treatment,” but declined to specify what kind.

Without citing any sources, Italian news agency ANSA reported that Mr Berlusconi had received chemotherapy.

Meanwhile family members continued to visit the hospital, including his brother, Paolo, his eldest daughter, Marina, and his younger son, Luigi.

The last few years have seen Mr Berlusconi suffer numerous health problems, including heart ailments and Covid-19 in 2020, which saw him hospitalised then in critical condition with pneumonia.

He has had a pacemaker for years, underwent heart surgery to replace an aortic valve in 2016, and overcame prostate cancer decades ago.

Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister four times between 1994 and 2011. Credit: AP

Mr Berlusconi was prime minister four times between 1994 and 2011 and has been a giant of the Italian right for decades.

He remains at the helm of Forza Italia, the centre-right party he created when he jumped into politics in the early 1990s, though the day-to-day running of the party has been left to underlings.

Recently he has made waves with a handful of comments about his old friend Russian President Vladimir Putin, boasting that the two had exchanged birthday greetings and blaming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the war.

Mr Berlusconi's comments have irked the pro-Ukraine Meloni government, though just this week Mr Tajani insisted that Mr Berlusconi is committed to a peaceful solution to the war.

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