Press "Enter" to skip to content

Clinic director says syphilis outbreak due to foreign tourist boom

OSAKA (TR) – Last month, the Japan National Tourism Organization revealed the number of foreign tourists arriving in Japan in September fell to 2.16 million from 2.28 million the year before.

Due to a recent surge in interest from overseas, Japan had enjoyed consecutive monthly increases dating back to January of 2013. According to the web site of weekly tabloid Friday, this increase has had its consequences: notably, a jump in the number of cases of syphilis.

Yasuaki Ishikawa, the director of the Ishikawa Urology Clinic, tells the tabloid that 65 men and 10 women in Osaka City contracted syphilis in 2012. For 2017, the figures jumped significantly to 375 and 260, respectively.

“Keep in mind, these figures are provided by health care centers. The actual numbers are not known,” says Ishikawa, whose clinic is located in the city’s Higashinari Ward.

The November 16 issue of Friday
November 16 issue of Friday

In 2017, the number of cases nationwide exceeded 5,000 for the first time in 44 years, according to data provided by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. Through September of this year, the figure stood at 5,081.

Last year, patients in Osaka Prefecture trailed only Tokyo, accounting for 846 cases, an increase by a factor of 1.4 over 2016.

“Previously, the number of syphilis patients was high within the gay community, but now it is increasing for [heterosexual] men and women,” says Ishikawa.

According to Ishikawa, the commercial sex (fuzoku) industry is the point of entry for syphilis, with female employees of such businesses having shows a rapid rise in infections. “The reason is the increase in inbound tourists [travelers from foreign countries]. Asian tourists in particular are believed to be the main factor,” says Ishikawa.

Friday says that poor sex education in China has resulted in surge in the rate of infection in large cities along coasts. Infected persons then arrive in Japan and visit fuzoku businesses, spreading the disease.

Undergo exams

“I’ll never forget it,” a female employee says. “One day in March, my temperature reached 38 degrees and my glands got swollen. That night, I visited a clinic and was told I had syphilis. Since there is an incubation period, I wasn’t able to figure out who gave it to me.

The employee later informed management at the sex business employing her and recommended that past customers be tracked down to undergo exams. In the end, 15 persons were found, but none of them were infected.

cases of syphilis
The number of cases of syphilis nationwide exceeded 5,000 for the first time in 44 years in 2017

“It took more than two months for me to be cured, but in the case of syphilis a “healed” person will still possess the antibody,” she adds. “Therefore, to prevent rumors about a positive test result I had to quit.”

The magazine says that proprietors of sex businesses had been openly soliciting customers from overseas, filling promotional material with assurances that foreign guests were accepted. “Since tourists don’t play around much in the Kita Shinchi area, the Nipponbashi area [to the south] is where it took off,” says a manager there. “Here, there are call-girl services whose sites are in Chinese.”

The manager of another fuzoku business says that establishments in general turned away foreigners for decades if they could not speak Japanese since an inability to understand rules poses a risk when it comes to spreading diseases. However, a subsequent business slump caused some to businesses to be far less strict. “Now, though, the doors are shutting again,” says the manager.

Olympic Games

Syphilis, which is caused by the bacterium treponema that enters wounded skin or mucous membrane, can be treated with antibiotics like penicillin. Initial symptoms include skin rashes in genital areas and lips but neurological problems can possibly follow in later stages.

Should the disease be left untreated, it can move through the body, eventually causing complications in the brain and heart. If a woman contracts the disease either before or after becoming pregnant she can pass it to her baby. Known as congenital syphilis, the condition could result in a stillbirth or the infant suffering from from meningitis and skin rashes.

Ishikawa is concerned that things could get worse in the near future. “Syphilis is said to be a modern-day pandemic, and, with the World Cup of Rugby scheduled [to take place in Tokyo] next year and Olympic Games a year after that, I am worried about [what will happen] with the [further] surge in tourist numbers.”