Concerns Growing over Measles Outbreak in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Health minister Keizo Takemi

Tokyo, March 13 (Jiji Press)—Concerns are growing that measles infections may become widespread in Japan as many other countries have been hit by outbreaks.

This year’s number of reported patients in Japan had reached 11 as of Monday, already surpassing the full-year numbers for 2020 to 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As measles cannot be prevented only by washing hands or wearing a mask, medical experts stress the importance of receiving routine vaccinations given under law.

Patients develop symptoms similar to those of cold some 10 days after getting infected, which are followed by a high fever and a rash.

Symptoms appear in almost 100 pct of those not immune to the measles virus. The disease kills one in 1,000 infected people even in developed countries.

Japan had over 10,000 reported cases in 2008. But the number has since slumped due in part to an increase in routine vaccinations to twice—at the age of 1 and just before entry into elementary school.

There were only 10 reported cases in 2020, when COVID-19 national border controls were introduced. The annual number stood at six in 2020 and 2022 and at 28 in 2023.

In other countries, infections are spreading. Eight of the 11 cases confirmed in Japan as of Monday were international passengers that arrived at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan.

“We need to pay special attention to a possible outbreak in Japan, with international travel growing active,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference Wednesday.

In a press conference Friday, health minister Keizo Takemi gave a similar warning, noting that reported cases in Europe soared more than 30 times from a year before.

Vaccinations are effective against measles. But the number of routine shots taken differs from one generation to another.

The ministry is calling on people, notably those born prior to April 1, 1990, who have received only one or no vaccination against measles, to check their vaccination histories.

“The risk is growing that viruses are brought to Japan. It is important to get vaccinated twice,” said Tomoya Saito, director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.