Syphilis continues alarming spread in Japan in first quarter of 2022

The growing problem of syphilis in Japan is not new: we’ve been writing about it for years now. But it simples that it won’t get better any time soon. Just when you think cases can’t rise anymore or that the coronavirus pandemic would at least slow its relentless spread, along comes the latest batch of statistics to prove you wrong.

We are only a quarter of the way through the year but number of cases of syphilis in Japan is already up yet again, reports the Mainichi.

Compared to the same period last year — whose overall figure reached a record high — the number of syphilis cases has climbed 1.6 times.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported 2,592 patients as of April. The number of cases was 1,595 at this point last year, whose total of 7,875 beat 2018’s 7,007, the previous high.

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The decade-long rise in syphilis in Japan can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, and most obviously, is the relatively low rate of condom usage in the country. Secondly, the rise of dating apps for hooking up, which has made casual sex easier than before. Thirdly, the massive jump in inbound tourism until the start of 2020 (since when Japan’s borders have been closed) may have contributed.

Syphilis also has a high infection rate (around 30%), though it also often passes between partners without either noticing. It is caused by bacterium Treponema pallidum spreading through bodily contact. The bacterium leads to lumps in the genitals, followed by a (usually painless) rash. It is treatable by oral medication, though can subsequently affect the brain, eyes, nerves, and other organs over the course of several years if untreated.

“Syphilis has become a common venereal disease,” said Yukari Kugishima, a doctor and head of a clinic in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward frequented by sex workers.

Prostitution is another cause of the rise in cases, since oral sex can also spread the bacterium (and non-penetrative sex is common at soaplands and other types of brothels in Japan), and certain establishments do not take measures against sexually transmitted infections or require their workers to get tested regularly.

“Not a few people hesitate to undergo testing because of the cost,” Dr. Kugishima notes. “In an industry where workers are at risk of contracting STDs, it is necessary to devise a system that can reduce the cost burden on people taking the tests.”

Though Tokyo’s presence at the top of the syphilis ranking nationwide is not a surprise, nor is the next-placed regions of Osaka and Aichi, given their high populations, it is a different story when we look at the figures on a per-million-people basis. Tokyo stop comes out top, but more rural areas closely follow (including Kochi, Okayama, Fukushima, Hiroshima, and Kagawa), suggesting that lack of awareness and/or access to testing facilities is also to blame.

Women in their twenties are the largest group of syphilis patients and the surge has led to unborn children contracting congenital syphilis among pregnant women.

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1 Comment

  • TheDude April 25, 2022

    If it smells like trout get on out

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