The National Institute of Infectious Diseases announced that there were 32 new cases of congenital syphilis across the country as of October 4.
This figure exceeds the previous record of 23 recorded in 2019, which was, at that point, the highest number for a single year since record-keeping began in the current form.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection transmitted mainly through sexual contact. It is curable, but if the infection is not treated, it can cause serious problems in the brain or heart. If a woman becomes a carrier before or during pregnancy, her baby could be infected and be born with abnormalities, and the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth increases.
Japan records over 12,000 syphilis cases
Syphilis infections cases in Japan have been on the rise in recent years.
As of October 29, more than 12,000 cases were reported among adults this year. This is the fastest rate of increase since comparable data became available in 1999.
Expert: Treatment needed before pregnancy
Kawana Kei, a chief professor at Nihon University's School of Medicine and an expert on syphilis, says infections should be treated before pregnancy to avoid passing them on to newborns.
"Even if you get treatment after you notice you are infected with syphilis during pregnancy, there is still a possibility that your baby will develop congenital syphilis," Kawana says. "It's important to treat infections before you become pregnant."
Congenital syphilis can cause rashes, and abnormalities in bones shortly after birth. The infected children can develop symptoms such as inflammation of the eyes and hearing loss in a few years, even if they don't have symptoms when they are an infant.
Kawana says both men and women who believe they may be infected should get tested.
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Syphilis cases spike in Japan