Jab warning as outbreak of measles hits 2,000
MORE than 2,000 people in Japan have been diagnosed with rubella - or German measles - in the worst outbreak for five years.
It has prompted the US government to issue a warning to visitors - particularly pregnant women - to make sure their vaccinations are up to date.
The 2,454 cases confirmed as of early December is 21 times the total number reported last year, with the outbreak centred on Tokyo and the surrounding areas of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta, Georgia.
There is also growing concern that similar outbreaks in the next two years - Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games will be staged in Tokyo the following year - could expose tens of thousands of foreign visitors to the disease.
Rubella, also known as three-day measles, is spread through the coughing and sneezes of people already infected. The symptoms include a rash, sore throat, fatigue and a fever that typically lasts three days.
And while the illness is often relatively mild, complications can include bleeding problems, testicular swelling and inflammation of the nerves.
Women in the early stages of pregnancy are particularly at risk and a mother can pass on congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) to her unborn baby.
Symptoms of CRS include heart, eyes, brain and hearing defects. Infection can also lead to premature birth, low birth weight, anaemia and hepatitis, while many mothers who contract rubella within the critical first trimester either have a miscarriage of a stillborn baby.
"We believe the first cases were brought into Japan from abroad, but the system of regular vaccinations were introduced for female junior high school students in 1977," said an official of Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The vaccination remained optional until April 1993, with many male students not having the injection. As a result, the latest outbreak is mostly affecting men between the ages of 30 and their early 50s.
The Japanese government has reacted by announcing health authorities will offer free rubella vaccinations for the next three years for men between the ages of 39 and 56 who were not vaccinated under previous programmes.
A number of local governments and some companies have started offering free antibody tests or vaccinations, although health officials say there is still limited public knowledge of free immunisation schemes.
An official of the institute was quoted in the Mainichi newspaper as saying that more needs to be done to increase the number of people who have been vaccinated in order to "prevent a pandemic". (© Daily Telegraph, London)