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Social hygiene getting outfoxed by the pox

“Considering that syphilis infections spread relatively easily, those who contract it tend to have a low awareness of their condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of carriers were actually several hundreds, or even thousands of times greater than the official figures.”

So says Dr. Tsuneo Akaeda, head of the Roppongi Clinic, who is often consulted by the media on such matters.

One thing is for sure, reports Nikkan Gendai (Dec. 16), this age-old malady is making a comeback in Japan. According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, 509 people were diagnosed with syphilis in 2003. As of last month, the figure for 2008 had reached 720.

In advanced stages, syphilis can invade the cardiovascular and nervous systems, causing death. And just because the numbers of patients appear small, it’s a big mistake to assume the disease poses no threat to public health.

According to Akaeda, among the factors behind its recent increase are more widespread use of birth control pills, leading to a reduction in condom usage; and growth in off-premises deri heru, or “delivery health,” sex businesses that tend to be more lax in the health checks of their workers.

But the most worrisome factor is that syphilis, like AIDS, is largely asymptomatic and not easily diagnosed in its primary stages, facilitating its spread through sexual contact. The usual giveaway is a skin rash for which it received its Japanese name, baidoku (plum poison). Sometimes the lymph nodes will swell.

“But a patient is often not aware of any itch or pain,” says Akaeda. “And the symptoms eventually vanish after a few days or weeks. So 30 percent of females and half of males who contract it may not be aware.”

In general, company physical examinations or human dock checkups do not include a screening for syphilis.

Akaeda also warns that a woman who contracts syphilis during pregnancy can transfer it to the fetus. He says the disease also raises one’s susceptibility to AIDS and other STDs.

Detected in its early stages it can be easily cured with antibiotics. If you’ve been playing with multiple partners, maybe it’s time for a checkup. (K.S.)

Source: “Shinzo ya shinkei ga okasare shinu koto mo,” Nikkan Gendai (Dec. 16, page 12)