The government is promoting free vaccinations against rubella for men age 39 to 56, using characters from a manga series thought to resonate with that generation.

The number of reported rubella cases in 2018 surged to the second-highest level since 2008, when the current survey method began. Many of the patients were men in their 30s to 50s who had not received vaccinations as children.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry this month released a poster featuring the main character from the action manga “City Hunter,” Ryo Saeba, and his partner Kaori Makimura. “We need you to take action to eradicate rubella,” the poster reads.

The campaign combines a test for rubella antibodies with a free vaccination for men born between April 2, 1962, and April 1, 1979. The service will be available through the end of March 2022.

Due to the vaccination policy when they were children, men in the targeted age range did not have the opportunity to get a rubella shot through the regular public vaccination program.

“We thought it important to offer them better access, not just provide the service for free,” Kuniaki Miyake, director of the health ministry’s Infectious Diseases Control Division, said after an awareness event in Tokyo on Monday.

“The key in this policy is to allow them to get checked on top of their regular workplace medical examinations,” Miyake said.

As a first step, local governments will distribute coupons in fiscal 2019 to men born between April 2, 1972, and April 1, 1979. Those who are eligible for the program but do not receive the coupons during that year can ask their municipal government to issue them.

Rubella is a contagious viral infection that mainly causes a red rash, fever and swollen lymph nodes, though 15 to 30 percent of infected people experience no clear symptoms. Inflammation of the brain is among the rare complications of the disease.

The government aims to reduce the infections to zero by fiscal 2020, and the drive is particularly important in preventing infections during pregnancy.

More than half of fetuses are affected by the disease when infection occurs in the first month of pregnancy, and this can involve impairments to the ears, eyes and heart, according to experts at Monday’s event.

At the event, obstetrics and gynecology specialist Mika Okuda said “no one is irrelevant,” adding that adult men are the most vulnerable and there may be pregnant women around them.

In 2018, there were 2,917 reported cases of rubella, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and 64.3 percent were men in their 30s to 50s. This year, the number of cases is increasing at the same pace as in 2013, when the largest total was recorded.

As many men in the target age group would have read “City Hunter” in their youth, the ministry believes the tie-in with the manga by artist Tsukasa Hojo will encourage more of them to get checked and vaccinated.

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