A doctor in the city of Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, infected with tuberculosis examined more than 600 patients without wearing a mask, a prefectural official said Wednesday.
The doctor, who is in his 50s and runs a clinic in Ito, began displaying symptoms of the potentially lethal airborne disease in mid-August but brushed them off as a common cold, the prefectural health official explained.
He continued to see patients without wearing a face mask until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis earlier this month.
During that time the doctor had contact with 658 people, including family members, clinic staff and more than 600 patients, five of whom were children, the official said.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs and can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing. It kills approximately 1 million people around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization.
The disease is found all over the planet but is more common in the developing world, where it also has a much higher mortality rate.
Letters were being sent to all patients examined by the doctor, the prefectural health spokesman said, adding that the names of the clinic and the doctor were not being disclosed.
“It is only 10 to 15 percent of people who suffer actual symptoms after they are infected with tuberculosis,” the official said.
“It also takes two to three months before they start showing these symptoms,” he said when pressed about why the prefecture did not act more quickly in alerting people to their possible infection.
The doctor has since been hospitalized for treatment.
Globally, 87 percent of those diagnosed with TB were successfully treated in 2010, the last year for which data are available on the WHO website.