The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has received nearly 800 phone inquiries following the revelation Monday that Haruka Minowa, of the popular female comic duo Harisenbon, has contracted tuberculosis.
The unusually large number of inquiries suggests the comic’s illness has served as a wakeup call to those who generally believed TB, once considered incurable, was no longer a serious threat thanks to medical advances, said Nobukatsu Ishikawa, head of the Research Institute of Tuberculosis, Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association.
“People tend to think tuberculosis has disappeared. That is a dangerous thought,” he said. “Many people still get infected.”
Peaking at 171,474 in 1943, tuberculosis fatalities by 2007 had plunged to just 2,188, with most of the victims among the elderly, according to the association, adding that only 7 percent of the victims in 2007 were 59 or younger. The number of new patients has also steadily declined, to 25,311 in 2007.
On Monday, the metro government’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health set up a help-line as “we thought many people would be worried,” a bureau official explained.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, the bureau had received 795 phone calls. Normally, regional health consultation centers handle such inquiries, he added.
Minowa and tuberculosis “were featured on TV this morning as well as over the past few days. And our telephones kept ringing,” the official said Wednesday morning, attributing the attention to the comedian’s fame.
Treatment typically involves two weeks to two months of hospitalization, a regimen of antibiotics and regular doctor visits for about four months, Ishikawa said.
The most common form of the disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, is caused by inhalation of bacteria. Symptoms such as a heavy cough typically appear within two years of infection, though in some cases it may take decades for symptoms to surface, he said, adding that those with a persistent cough should see a doctor.
The BCG vaccine, which most Japanese children receive, is most effective at preventing infection or easing symptoms in patients up until about the age of 6, a welfare ministry official said. No vaccines to prevent adults from contracting the disease have been developed.
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