ROME (AP) — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi is being treated for a lung infection that suggests he has a “chronic blood condition” that is a kind of leukemia, his doctors said Thursday.
Berlusconi's personal physician, Alberto Zangrillo, signed off on a medical bulletin that said Berlusconi has had leukemia "for some time” but that the cancer of the blood cells was in a “persistent chronic phase.”
“The current treatment strategy envisions treatment of the pulmonary infection” as well as specialized treatment “aimed at limiting the negative effects” of a preexisting condition, chronic leukemia," the bulletin stated.
Berlusconi, 86, is a media mogul who served three terms as Italy's premier and now serves in the Senate. He was admitted to an intensive care unit at Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital on Wednesday for treatment of what aides indicated was a respiratory problem stemming from a previous infection.
Earlier Thursday, a close political ally, quoting Zangrillo, reported that Berlusconi was alert and in stable condition at the hospital. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who is the coordinator of Forza Italia, the political party that Berlusconi created some 30 years ago, said he couldn't confirm Italian media reports saying Berlusconi had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Zangrillo, Berlusconi’s longtime physician, is a chief anesthesiologist at San Raffaele Hospital, where his patient is being treated. The former three-time premier and now senator had left the same hospital a week ago after several days of tests.
Without citing any sources, Italian news agency ANSA reported that Berlusconi had received chemotherapy.
Italian media in Turin quoted Vittorio Sgarbi, s Culture Ministry undersecretary who long was a prominent lawmaker from Forza Italia, as saying the former premier “is faced with a situation obviously difficult, from which he must miraculously emerge, and it's hoped by all his friends that he comes out of it.”
Berlusconi's party whip in the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament, Paolo Barelli, told reporters that Berlusconi “is responding to treatment,” but Barelli declined to specify what kind.
A statement from Forza Italia said Berlusconi on Thursday morning had telephoned several party officials about political matters.
Meanwhile family members continued to visit Berlusconi. Spotted arriving at the hospital were his brother, Paolo, his eldest daughter, Marina, and his younger son, Luigi.
The last years have seen Berlusconi suffer numerous health problems, including heart ailments and COVID-19 in 2020, which saw him hospitalized 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.
On March 31, Berlusconi tweeted when he left the hospital after a battery of tests that he was “ready and determined to commit myself as I’ve always done to the country I love.”
His brother made no comment upon arriving at the hospital Thursday morning. But when he left the hospital the night before, Paolo Berlusconi said of his brother: “He’s a rock. Thus, he’ll make it this time, too.”
With no political heir apparent despite Berlusconi's multiple health setbacks, Forza Italia has seen its popularity at the polls slump to a fraction of what it enjoyed years ago, when voters helped to repeatedly propel him into the premiership despite his legal woes.
Among the messages for a quick recovery was one from Premier Giorgia Meloni, who tweeted "Forza Silvio,” riffing off the soccer chant that Berlusconi turned into the name of his political party, which is currently one of two junior coalition partners in Meloni's nearly six-month-old right-wing government.
On Wednesday, during a Senate confidence roll-call vote when Berlusconi's name was called and an official said “absent,” a round of applause erupted from across the political spectrum in Parliament's upper chamber.
The Senate seat Berlusconi won in September is fruit of his latest political comeback. A decade ago, he was banned from holding public office over a tax fraud conviction stemming from dealings in his media empire.
Last year, he triggered an uproar with comments about his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, boasting that the two had exchanged birthday greetings. Berlusconi also has blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the war.
Luca Bruno in Milan contributed to this report.