National / Science & Health

Syphilis infections in Japan top 6,000 for first time since 1970

JIJI, Kyodo

Cases of syphilis infections this year totaled 6,096 as of Nov. 18, exceeding an annual amount of 6,000 for the first time since 1970, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said Wednesday.

The number of syphilis patients stood at 1,548 in Tokyo, the highest among the country’s 47 prefectures, followed by 1,043 in Osaka, 399 in Aichi, 314 in Kanagawa and 272 in Fukuoka.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government in April started providing more free syphilis testing to contain the disease, which is curable at an early stage but has serious consequences if left untreated.

To prevent further spread of the disease ahead of the 2020 Games, the metropolitan government has earmarked funds in its fiscal 2018 budget to conduct more free anonymous tests and train doctors who have limited experience in treating syphilis.

Syphilis is caused by bacteria called treponema. In the primary stage, the disease manifests as minor sores or ulcers in affected areas, such as around the genitals and lips, and can be cured by anti-bacterial drugs. But if left untreated, the infection can eventually cause inflammation throughout the body, as well as brain and heart complications.

Pregnant women who contract the disease before or during pregnancy can pass it on to their baby. The disease, known as congenital syphilis, can cause stillbirth or affect infants through symptoms such as meningitis and skin rashes.

According to the health ministry, the number of patients is markedly increasing among men in their 20s to 50s and women in their 20s to 30s. But the cause of the increase has yet to be identified.

Beginning in January, the ministry will require doctors to report the use of sex industry services by their syphilis patients under a mandatory reporting system in order to identify the cause of the disease’s spread. The ministry is calling for the use of condoms, as well as examinations so the disease can be detected early.