Fighting Japan's Rubella Outbreak

Japanese were shocked last week when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its advisory on Japan's rubella outbreak to an "alert," the second highest level. It advised travelers to ensure they were vaccinated for the virus before entering the country. It warned that pregnant women not protected by vaccination or previous infection should not travel to Japan.

The State of the Outbreak


Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases says 197 cases were reported in the week up to October 24th, pushing up the total for the year to 1,486.

By prefecture, 509 people have been infected in Tokyo, 251 in Chiba and 195 in Kanagawa. That puts more than 70 percent of the cases in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures.

The number of men infected stands at 1,189. That's about 5 times more than women, at 233. The men are mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s.


Why men in these age groups

Health regulations in place from 1977 to 1995 required only that junior high school girls be vaccinated for rubella, making boys of those generations, now between the ages of 30 and 60, vulnerable to infection.

Rubella is a viral infection, causing fever and rashes. Women infected during pregnancy put the fetus at risk of eye, ear or heart disorders.

Health officials in Japan are recommending vaccination for all males in the relevant age groups who have never had the virus, or have no record of vaccination. Vaccination is also recommended for anyone in frequent contact with a pregnant woman, and for women who are planning to have children.

Tackling the Problem on all Fronts

The Tokyo prefectural government announced last week that it would foot the bill for testing immunity to Rubella for those eligible. The test is being offered to men living with a pregnant women and women of child-bearing age.

The Kanagawa Prefectural government is trying to raise awareness about Rubella and prevent more infections. It's showing an online video entitled, "The ideal man is the one who's vaccinated."

Some companies are offering financial support for employees needing vaccination. One firm is funding 70 percent of the cost of vaccination, which is about 90 dollars per person.

One of the opposition parties in the Diet, the Democratic Party For the People, arranged on Tuesday for vaccination of their parliament members and staff. Party President Yuichiro Tamaki is 49 and is urging all men in the relevant age groups to get vaccinated.

Japan's health ministry says the US is the only country, so far, advising pregnant women not to travel to Japan.

The World Health Organization noted in 2015 that the Americas were the first region to eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. It has also pointed out that 42 countries still have not introduced the vaccine, emphasizing that outbreaks are preventable.