There has been a surge in the number of syphilis cases in recent years, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, including the number of congenital syphilis sufferers.
The incidence of syphilis dropped after World War II, thanks to advances in antibiotics. However, that trend started to reverse itself from 2003, rising from 509 cases to 600 in 2006, 737 in 2007 and 823 in 2008; nearly 100 additional cases per year. Groups with the highest increases were men aged 35-39, and women aged 20-24. In the latter group, the number of cases tripled between 2003 and 2007. The number of cases of congenital syphilis, in which the disease is passed from mother to unborn child, stood at 10 in 2006, and 7 by the end of July 2008. There have also been cases of the father infecting the mother during pregnancy. Congenital syphilis has a 40 percent mortality rate during pregnancy and the first week, and director of the institute’s Infectious Disease Surveillance Center, Yuki Tada, said: “Pregnant women have to be tested during their checkups, and if diagnosed the disease must be treated properly.” Syphilis is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum, and usually spread through sexual intercourse. “The cause is probably the trend for more sexual partners. Sales of condoms are down, and the increase in syphilis infection would seem to correlate with this,” said Koji Saida, of the Saida Maternity Clinic in Osaka.
Syphilis, caused by the bacteria treponema pallidum, is transmitted mainly through sexual intercourse and can be treated with antibiotics.
After an incubation period of two to five weeks, a lump may form in the genitalia. Going untreated for 10 to 25 years can lead to brain and heart disease.