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Rubella infection spikes in Japan, including metropolitan area

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The number of rubella patients reported in Japan this year stood at 362, nearly quadrupling from the previous year, with many of the cases located in Tokyo and its vicinity, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said Tuesday.

The institute is warning a potential rubella outbreak could even affect the operation of Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan in 2020 and is urging people, mainly men in their 30s to 50s, to get vaccinations as many have not been vaccinated sufficiently against rubella.

The latest report through Sept. 2 showed 75 cases were newly reported in a week, down from 97 in the previous week. Of these, 28 were in Tokyo, followed by 11 in Chiba Prefecture, eight in Kanagawa Prefecture, seven in Aichi Prefecture in central Japan and five each in Ibaraki and Saitama prefectures.

Rubella, a highly contagious disease often transmitted through coughing and sneezing, can have a serious health impact if contracted by women in the early stages of pregnancy as it tends to cause birth defects such as heart disorders, hearing impairments and cataracts in babies.

Vaccination is effective in preventing infection, but women who are already pregnant cannot be vaccinated as the vaccine itself is feared to have an impact on the child.

In 2013, Japan saw a major rubella outbreak, with over 10,000 people being infected. Cases of infection have since declined but there has been a resurgence since late July this year, with many of the patients being men in their 30s and older.

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