Japanese health authorities have been fighting the country's worst measles outbreak for years. Many infections are clustered among participants at a Valentine's Day Gift Fair and a religious group that avoids vaccinations.
A total of 167 cases were reported in 10 of the 47 Japanese prefectures by 10 February, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said, with the largest outbreaks in Mie and Osaka prefectures.
It is the fastest that Japan has reached this number of cases at the beginning of the year since 2008.
The outbreak of the highly contagious disease occurs as the United States grapples with measles outbreaks in Texas, New York and Washington, with more than 120 cases reported so far this year. These epidemics have prompted children to be vaccinated in some places where parents have a wider choice regarding these decisions.
In Japan, almost all 49 cases reported in Mie Prefecture were people related to Miroku Kyusei Shinkyo community, a religious group advocating alternative healing.
The group said that he insisted on the need to avoid drugs and vaccines and consume foods derived from natural agriculture. But after some members were infected, the group apologized and said it was changing its practices.
"Given the unexpected situation, we will follow the advice of the health center to get vaccinated against measles or other highly infectious diseases so as not to worry others," the group said. a statement posted on their website.
Some of the patients from the outbreak of Mie prefecture have not been sufficiently vaccinated, said Masaya Yamato, doctor of the Rinku General Medical Center in Osaka.
"Many patients were young and did not get enough vaccines, perhaps because of their parents' philosophy, and the outbreak spread during their meeting," said Dr. Yamato.
Another large group of measles infections is located in Osaka, in the highest complex in Japan, Abeno Harukas, where 21 clients and workers at a Valentine's Day fair contracted the virus.
A handful of cases were related to children returning to Japan from the Philippines. The Philippines reported an ever-increasing number of measles and death cases this year, with the virus spreading beyond Manila, the capital, to other parts of Luzon, the country's most populous island. In the first six weeks of 2019, more than 9,000 cases were reported, including 146 deaths, the Philippines Department of Health said.
Measles is caused by a virus and its symptoms include rashes, fever and ear infections, which in some cases can lead to permanent hearing loss. Children are particularly susceptible to the disease, some infections resulting in complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis, swelling of the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease kills one or two children out of 1,000 who suffer from it.
Although Japan is one of the richest countries in the world and has a strong health system, researchers have found that among developed countries, the number of vaccine-preventable infections is high. A measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was stopped in the early 1990s after being associated with aseptic meningitis. Since then, the government has been mistrustful of vaccine promotion.
However, this has changed somewhat in recent years, and in 2006, Japanese health authorities began recommending a second measles vaccine to children to increase immunization rates.