The number of people infected with measles in the January-August period was about 82 percent down from the same period last year and is heading toward a record annual low, the healthy ministry said Thursday.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry surveyed 3,000 designated hospitals nationwide and found there were about 1,400 measles patients aged 17 and younger in the eight-month period, compared with about 7,800 a year earlier.
As measles infections normally peak between spring and summer, medical experts believe the number for the whole year could be around 1,500.
The current record low is about 8,000, posted in both 1990 and 2003. The highest number of measles cases was some 120,000 in 1984. The surveys began in 1981.
Ministry officials said they plan to adopt a vaccination program requiring two doses — the first in infancy and the second later in childhood — as is done in the United States, Canada and other countries.
The ministry will set up a study group soon to decide on exactly when the two doses should be administered, according to the officials. Only one measles vaccination is given in the current program.
Japan has been criticized as a “measles exporter” because Japanese children have spread the infectious disease when they travel abroad. Many developed countries have almost eradicated measles.