Health Ministry fears infection rate is accelerating,but numbers remain low compared to many other countries.
TOKYO The number of new infections of the AIDS virus in Japan hit a new high of 248 in a three-month period from April to June this year, the Health Ministry said Wednesday, raising fears the country’s infection rate is accelerating.
The increase was the highest since 209 people were infected in the July-September period in 2004, said ministry official Yasuaki Hashimoto.
A ministry statement on the new figures did not specify a cause for the increase, but suggested the wider availability of testing for HIV, the AIDS virus, could account for a marked increase in infections among middle-aged Japanese.
The number of people infected with HIV in Japan 17,000 remains low compared to many other countries. The infection rate in Japan is 1 in 7,529 people, far lower than, for example, the 1-to-110 infection rate in Thailand, according to UNAIDS, a U.N. body.
Although the numbers are small, the rate at which HIV infection has spread in Japan over the past decade is similar to developing countries. Japanese tend to have a low general awareness of the disease.
“We are greatly concerned about the trend,” Hashimoto said, adding that the ministry has been promoting awareness about HIV to the general public and urging health officials to expand hours for HIV tests at clinics.
Some experts also argue that the cases are severely underreported, estimating the actual number of Japanese infected with the AIDS virus, many of them gay men, is two to four times the official toll.
While two-thirds of those newly infected with HIV were people in their 20s and 30s, infections among older people were increasing, according to the ministry’s AIDS Surveillance Committee.
The ratio of those newly infected in their 40s and 50s rose to 31 percent in April-June, up from 22 percent in the previous quarter.
Hashimoto said that the increase in such cases may be due to week long awareness campaigns in June with extended hours for tests making it easier for older people, often in managerial positions, to get tested.
The number of new AIDS patients during the latest period was 106, the second highest since the July-September period in 2004 with 126 cases, the official said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 25, 2006.