BY HIROKO NAKATA
STAFF WRITER
FEB 8, 2013 Japan  Times
The fresh rubella outbreak spreading quickly nationwide poses the greatest threat to fetuses, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

If a woman catches rubella in the early stages of pregnancy, her child can suffer hearing, heart and eye defects. Five such cases were reported during last year’s epidemic and one has already been reported this year, the institute said.

On Jan. 29, the health ministry issued a nationwide alert about the potential for another epidemic and recommended that prefectures and other local governments start promoting vaccinations. The case count in January has already surpassed the yearly average.

Outbreaks of rubella, also known as German measles or three-day measles, usually peak in spring and early summer, causing rashes, fevers and swollen glands, mostly in children.

The 254 cases in January are more than 13 times higher than a year ago and higher than the annual average of 224 logged from 2008 to 2011, the institute said.

Last year’s rubella epidemic hit 2,353 people in total, but just 19 in January, the institute said.

Rubella is perpetuated by the rubella virus, which can be transmitted by coughing and sneezing. Some people develop an immunity from past infections, but most use vaccinations to prevent a recurrence, the institute said.

The virus often infects children, but adults have proven more susceptible in recent years — especially men in their 20s to 40s, it said.

The current outbreak is concentrated in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, so far.

The health ministry is urging vaccinations, especially for women trying to get pregnant and their husbands. … more see: Japan Times

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See also related: Why is measles still endemic in Japan? by Harumi Gomi a , Hiroshi Takahashi

The Lancet, Volume 364, Issue 9431, Pages 328 – 329, 24 July 2004 <Previous Article|Next Article>

doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16715-9
Why is measles still endemic in Japan?

“Japan has been confronting the problems of uncontrolled measles for more than a decade now, and WHO has taken the initiative to eliminate measles worldwide. Despite these global efforts, however, measles is still endemic in Japan: there were an estimated 200 000 cases and 88 deaths (mainly in children) in 2000.1, 2 But measles is not only a domestic problem. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that Japan is the country that exports measles to the USA most frequently….infant mortality in Japan is among the lowest in the world. Nevertheless, many Japanese children still die from a vaccine-preventable disease. Why is that?

“Since 1994, the Japanese government has played a very passive part in the formulation of vaccine policies, mainly because of strong public opposition to the reinforcement of mandatory vaccination. As a consequence, the general public has not been well educated on vaccine-preventable diseases and is not aware of the significance of those diseases. Measles vaccine coverage rates are lower than in other countries such as the USA, where domestic measles has been almost eliminated. Moreover, even though many countries have already implemented a two-dose regimen of measles vaccine, Japan has not. Until January, 2004, administration of measles vaccine was recommended between 12 and 24 months of age, instead of between 12 and 15 months when children have the greatest risk of contracting measles.

There is no established system to check vaccination status on entry to the school systems.
Strong political and social desire has to be inspired, and vigorous educational campaigns for policy makers and the general public are required. If there are clear strategies and prioritisation on vaccine policies, and a strong will to combat the disease, measles in Japan can be controlled. The great success of near elimination of measles on the American continents is strong encouragement.5 It is time for the Japanese government to regain leadership on this issue.”