Signs arrive of Japan’s latest measles outbreak


A spike in measles patients this year is stoking fear of yet another outbreak stemming from the failures of Japan’s vaccination program.

According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, medical institutions nationwide reported 46 patients as of Jan. 26, compared with 18 in the same period last year.

A combined measles-rubella vaccine started being administered twice per person in 2006.

Japan’s previous practice of one-time vaccination failed to confer immunity in many cases, leading to a widespread measles outbreak among people between 10 and 30 in 2007 that forced the closure of the entire university system.

“Measles infections usually peak between spring and summer,” said Keiko Taya, chief of the institute’s Infectious Disease Surveillance Center. “The high number of patients at the onset of the year raises concern over an outbreak.”

She urged people to get vaccinated twice even if they had a shot as a child.

One in 1,000 measles sufferers is said to die and adults tend to develop serious symptoms. Pregnant women with measles are at risk of miscarriage or premature birth.

According to the institute, 17 people who returned to Japan from the Philippines, where measles is prevalent, developed the disease between December and Jan. 6. People in close contact with them who have no immunity may have caught the disease as well.

Japan is internationally known as an “measles exporter.”

The combined “MMR” vaccine touted in 1989 for measles, mumps and rubella gave rise to reports of severe side effects — including some deaths. This caused it to be shunned by families, creating an entire generation of uninoculated kids in the ’90s who are now turning into adults.

Information from staff reports added