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Pregnant women warned to avoid malady carrying miscarriage, stillbirth risk as cases spike


TOKYO -- Pregnant women are being urged to take precautions against contracting fifth disease, recently spreading across the Tokyo metropolitan area and Tohoku region of northeastern Japan, as the infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

The disease, caused by the parvovirus, is common among children and usually heals naturally. However, if pregnant women are infected it can harm the fetus.

Symptoms are initially similar to that of the common cold, including fever, cough, and sneezing, though patients will eventually develop a red cheek rash. It can spread to others through droplets from sneezing, physical contact and contaminated objects. Transmission is unlikely once the cheek rashes appear, a symptom leading the disease to be dubbed "apple sickness" in Japan.

The number of newly reported patients per week began to increase around October 2018, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, based on data collected from about 3,000 pediatric facilities in Japan. Since then, the number of patients has remained the highest seen in recent years.

By prefecture, Miyagi in northeast Japan had the highest ratio of patients per medical facility, at 5.64, according to the latest data from Dec. 10 to 16. This figure is followed by 2.05 in Tokyo, 1.98 in neighboring Saitama Prefecture, 1.91 in Niigata Prefecture on the central Sea of Japan coast, 1.87 in the northwest prefecture of Iwate, 1.45 in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, and 1.33 in Yamanashi Prefecture in central Japan. The average ratio across all 47 prefectures is 0.88.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare catalogued 69 reported cases of an expectant mother passing the disease onto her unborn baby, with 35 of the pregnancies ending in miscarriages and 14 in stillbirths. Three of the women elected to have abortions. About half of the mothers were not aware that they were infected. Pregnant women should be careful not to get fifth disease at home, as more than half of the patients were infected through family members or children that already had the disease.

Kazue Kawakami, director of Kazue Kids Clinic based in the capital's Shibuya Ward, says fifth disease has been spreading in Tokyo from around autumn last year. Kawakami stated, "Pregnant women should take care to wear surgical masks when going out, and avoid crowds."

(Japanese original by Takeshi Noda, Medical Welfare News Department)

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