A recent trend has been causing havoc inside the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. Syphilis, a disease that had been in decline ever since the end of World War II has been making a comeback; its rise, completely the opposite of subtle, put everyone on a state of alert as they tried to determine what had caused the spike of infections.
In 2018, it was reported that the number of people diagnosed with syphilis had suddenly skyrocketed to 5,000, the highest number in 44 years. Now in 2019, we can see that things have not improved. The number of cases reported last year stood at 6,923. Japan had not seen such numbers in 48 years.
Among those infected, the largest demographics are women in their 20s and men in their 20s and 40s who have heterosexual relations. Those particularly vulnerable are people working in the sex industry and those who use the services. Additionally, those infected tend to live in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
The perplexing resurgence of cases has led many experts to wonder why syphilis has made such a strong comeback, and after a while they came up with a second culprit (besides the sex industry): dating apps.
Dating apps, meet-up apps, hookup apps. It doesn’t matter what you call them, they are all mainly used to find people with whom to have sex. These type of apps have become very popular around the world, and since they enable casual sex, they have also been associated with unsafe sex practices and promiscuity. According to a study the Japanese Society for Sexually Transmitted Infections conducted, prefectures with higher number of hookup app users are the ones that have seen high number of syphilis cases.
The addition of dating apps into the equation has caused an intriguing problem since usually, and almost arbitrarily, syphilis cases were associated with prostitution. The prevalence and high popularity of hookup apps has come to alter how humans interact with each other, which has resulted in a societal and cultural evolution that has seen changes in how sexual encounters are set up and take place. While some say that the way these apps have led to the promotion of prostitution, no one can argue against the fact that they have facilitated promiscuity. A person and their full sexual nature are just at your fingertip, and one quick click or swipe can allow a conversation to flourish. One of the problems of having access to so many people like that is that not everyone follows the same practices when having sex, and the decline of condom usage and increase in number of sex partners has also allowed such diseases like syphilis to return and spread.
Syphilis is a very contagious disease that usually through sex (including oral and anal). Primary syphilis occurs during the early stages of the disease, and can be identified due to the chancre or skin lesion that appears where the disease was transmitted, thus usually being in the genitals. However, chancres can go unnoticed, and there is no true way to know that one has contracted the disease unless a test is conducted.
If left untreated, syphilis can cause permanent problems and even result in death. However, the disease can be treated with penicillin and with doxycycline and tetracycline for those allergic to penicillin. Treatment will vary depending on how long someone has been infected.
No. Panicking is absolutely unnecessary. However, it is important to remember that there are many sexually transmitted diseases, and that those who have multiple sex partners are at higher risk of getting infected.
If you are sexually active, have condoms at hand. You never know when you are going to need them! Additionally, it is important to get tested for STDs. It is also a good idea to ask for someone’s latest STDs tests before having sex. This brings us to yet another question: where can I get tested for STDs in Japan?
If you are already living in Japan, then you are familiar with their excellent health care system. Depending on your type of work, you might be receiving your health insurance from either your company or having the National Health Insurance. As it’s the case with every country, Japan’s health care system has its pros and cons. However, experiences with it are mostly positive. Additionally, it’s always great knowing that you have access to health care, and that going to the dentist, doctor, or hospital will not result in a huge bill that will leave you in debt (we are looking at you, America!).
Unfortunately, something puzzling happens when it comes to STD tests. If you have the National Health Insurance, you will be surprised to find out that at some hospitals or clinics in Japan these tests are not covered, not even when getting your annual exam. This can be very problematic, since routinely getting tested for STDs is crucial; and we seriously can’t emphasize how important getting tested for STDs is. If you are sexually active, whether you have multiple sexual partners or not, you should get tested regularly.
Seeing clinics offering the tests for a whooping 12,000 yen can be a huge deterrent that makes people think that getting tested is no longer a priority. This is, of course, something that should not cross your mind, and which brings to question: how can someone get tested without having to spend a lot of money?
Shinjuku City Public Health Test Venue is located inside Shinjuku Metropolitan Taxation Office. This place offers free HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and hepatitis B tests as well as consultations. All tests are anonymous, and they are offered during the day (certain days are devoted only for women, and other days only for men), and at night for both men and women. Check their schedule if you plan to visit. Additionally, don’t forget that it takes six to eight weeks for HIV antibodies to develop, you should get tested at least 60 days after the date of a possible infection.
Osaka’s many public health centers offer free and anonymous HIV tests. Communication Hub of Testing and Smart Life Net also offer free tests. You can find information about these centers you can make a phone call and schedule a visit.
With the number of people infected with syphilis rising, it’s important to understand the importance of safe sex practices and getting tested for STDs. There are places in Japan that offer multiple types of tests free of charge, a great advantage for those whose health insurance does not cover the often expensive tests. While one should not panic over this trend, getting tested regularly and following safe sex practices are of the utmost importance.