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A recent temporary closure of schools due to an outbreak of measles shows that Japan is lagging in its efforts to contain the infectious disease. In the 1950s, thousands of people died of measles. Although the number of annual deaths is said to have come down to single or double figures since the 1990s, Japan has been accused of being an “exporter” of measles since virtually no cases of the disease are reported anymore in Europe or the Americas.

This year a large number of teenagers and young adults contracted measles. As a result, educational facilities ranging from elementary schools to universities were temporarily closed. It is believed that some of the measles victims had never received vaccinations and that others did but failed to develop sufficient immunity. Most middle-aged and elderly people have immunity because they suffered from the disease when they were children.

In 1989, a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was put into use, but it was discontinued in 1993 after it caused meningitis in some people. Concerned for their children’s health, many parents chose not to allow them to receive measles vaccinations — an apparent contributory factor to this year’s outbreak.

Since the peak season for measles is from April to June, public health authorities and citizens must not lower their guard against the disease. The virus can spread easily in places where people gather. Early symptoms of the disease resemble a cold, but in two to four days after patients develop a high fever, small red spots appear on their bodies. The virus can cause pneumonia or encephalitis, causing death in some cases.

Two rounds of vaccinations are needed to ensure sufficient immunity to measles. People who are not sure whether they have immunity should undergo an antibody check, and those without immunity should be vaccinated. As a long-term policy, the government must push two-stage vaccinations in earnest — when children are a year old, and when they reach elementary-school age, usually six.

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