February 22, 2024

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Japan: Surge in Syphilis Cases Tops 13000 in 2023

Japan: Surge in Syphilis Cases Tops 13000 in 2023

Japan: Surge in Syphilis Cases Tops 13000 in 2023

The number of reported syphilis cases in 2023 exceeds 13,000… the highest since the start of statistics with the current survey method, and a rising reality of congenital syphilis in children.

According to the preliminary data from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases’ Weekly Report on the Occurrence Trends of Infectious Diseases for the 46th week of 2023 (11/13-19), the number of reported syphilis cases nationwide for the past week was 174 in Japan, bringing the cumulative total for this year to 13,251.

Since the adoption of the current survey method in 1999, this marks the highest number of reported cases.

Japan: Surge in Syphilis Cases Tops 13000 in 2023

What is Syphilis, an Infectious Disease?

Syphilis is an infectious disease caused by the pathogen Treponema pallidum, primarily transmitted through sexual contact such as oral and anal sex. Even after apparent recovery, reinfection is possible.

Symptoms include painless sores, rashes without itching on the palms and body, and the persistence of infectiousness. If left untreated, it can lead to organ damage in the heart, blood vessels, brain, and may even result in death.


Insights from an Infectious Disease Expert…

Dr. Yoshinori Yasui from the Osaka Saiseikai Nakatsu Hospital, an expert in infectious diseases, states, “In 2022, there were 12,966 reported cases throughout the year, but in 2023, the numbers have finally surpassed that. If this trend continues, we may approach nearly 15,000 cases by the end of the year.

Despite efforts by local governments to enhance testing and awareness campaigns, the increase shows no signs of abating. Of particular concern is the rising number of babies born with congenital syphilis. For those considering childbirth, it is crucial to be well-informed about syphilis. We, as healthcare professionals, believe it’s essential to disseminate accurate knowledge about syphilis to the public.”


Widespread Occurrence Across Japan, Especially in Major Japanese Cities

In terms of prefectures, Tokyo reported 3,244 cases, followed by Osaka with 1,760, Fukuoka with 829, Aichi with 751, Hokkaido with 607, and Kanagawa with 594.

While cases are concentrated in major metropolitan areas, patients have been identified in all prefectures.

Men in their 20s to 50s constitute the majority, while in women, those in their 20s are predominant. Data from 2022 indicated that approximately 30% of reported cases were in females.


Concerns about Congenital Syphilis in Children

The growing issue with infections in young women is not only about their health but also the risk of mother-to-child transmission if pregnant.

If a pregnant woman is infected, syphilis can be transmitted to the baby through the placenta, increasing the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Even if the child is born seemingly healthy, they may develop various symptoms later, termed “congenital syphilis.” In 2023, 32 children have already been diagnosed with congenital syphilis.

Early-stage congenital syphilis may present symptoms like vesicular rash, macular rash, generalized lymphadenopathy, hepatosplenomegaly, and rhinitis within a few months of birth.

Late-stage congenital syphilis may manifest with significant corneal inflammation, sensorineural deafness, and Hutchinson’s teeth after the age of two.


Syphilis is Treatable with Medication!

Syphilis responds well to antibiotics, including penicillin.

In Japan, the domestically manufactured benzathine penicillin G injection, a globally recognized standard treatment, has been approved for sale.

For early syphilis, a single injection is often sufficient, while late-stage syphilis may require three injections.

The duration of oral treatment varies based on the stage of the disease, with decisions made by the attending physician. It is crucial not to interrupt treatment without the doctor’s approval, and until deemed safe by a physician, activities that may contribute to the spread of infection, such as sexual intercourse, should be avoided.

Dr. Yasui emphasizes, “Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics, so if you have any concerns, get tested, and if infected, seek treatment promptly.

However, preventing infection in the first place and stopping its spread are equally important. Avoiding risky behavior that contributes to the spread of syphilis is crucial, and we hope everyone can lead healthy lives.”


Related Information:

  • Japan National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Weekly Report on the Occurrence Trends of Infectious Diseases (46th week, 2023)
  • Infectious Disease Trends Survey, Syphilis Overview (As of October 4, 2023)
  • IDWR 2022 No. 42 “Infectious Diseases to Be Cautious About,” Syphilis, Treatment of Syphilis in Pregnancy
  • Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Website: Syphilis, Q&A on Syphilis

Japan: Surge in Syphilis Cases Tops 13000 in 2023



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