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10% of Japan women with syphilis pregnant in 2019, likely infected by male partner: gov't

The Central Government Building No. 5, which houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, is seen in this file photo taken in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Nearly 10% of women who reportedly have syphilis were also pregnant in the first half of 2019, according to data compiled by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID).

Numbers of patients with syphilis have surged across Japan since around 2011. The NIID's data marks the first time the government has attempted to gain a picture of the situation around expectant mothers with the sexually transmitted disease.

In a bid to understand the route of infection and other details, starting from January the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has included a section in reports on patients from doctors allowing them to state whether the infected patient is pregnant, and if they have worked in the adult entertainment industry in the last six months.

The NIID analyzed cases of syphilis reported from the first to the 26th week of 2019, a six-month period from January, and found that a reported 106 of 1,117 women with syphilis were pregnant. Of the 61 patients who gave their answers to a section on whether they had worked in the adult entertainment industry in the preceding six months, 56 said they had not done so.

"It is possible that most of the expectant mothers suffering from syphilis were infected by their male partners," said Takuya Yamagishi, a doctor at the NIID.

If a fetus is infected with the disease, it is at risk of stillbirth or inherited syphilis. Incidences of congenital syphilis are rising, with 17 cases reported by the 42nd week of 2019, which is as many as were reported in the whole of 2018.

Of the 100 patients who revealed how many weeks into their pregnancy they were, 26 reported being at 20 weeks or more. Tests for syphilis are conducted on expectant mothers in early pregnancy, but because a fetus can be infected even after mid-pregnancy, experts say tests need to be done on mothers in the later stages of pregnancy, too.

(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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