The number of new
infections of the AIDS virus in Japan hit a new high of
248 in the three-month period from April to June of this
year, the Health Ministry said Wednesday in Tokyo,
raising fears that the country's infection rate
is accelerating. The increase was the highest since the
July-September 2004 period, when 209 people were
infected, 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 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 with
that of many other countries. The infection rate in
Japan is 1 in 7,529 people, far lower than, for example, the
1-in-110 infection rate in Thailand, according to UNAIDS.
Although the numbers are small, the rate at
which HIV infection has spread in Japan over the past
decade is similar to the rate in developing
countries. Japanese tend to have a low general awareness of
the disease, which is largely seen as a problem of foreign nations.
"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
Some experts also argue that the cases are
severely underreported, estimating that 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 are in their 20s and 30s, infections
among older people are increasing too, according to the
ministry's AIDS Surveillance Committee.
The ratio of those newly infected in their 40s
and 50s rose to 31% in April-June, up from 22%
in the previous quarter, according to a statement by
the committee released Tuesday. Hashimoto said that the
increase in such cases may be due to weeklong
awareness campaigns in June with extended hours for
tests, making it easier for older people, who often
hold 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. The number of reported cases of HIV has
been rising since 2002 to 832 cases, a record high, in
2005, while the number of reported cases of AIDS
decreased in 2005 after a two-year increase. (AP)