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Immortal Illnesses

Japan Faces a Dramatic Spread of a Dangerous Bacterial Disease

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

With COVID-19 restrictions calming down, Japan is facing soaring cases of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), a deadly bacterial infection commonly caused by streptococcus pyogenes, also known as Strep A. In 2023, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) reported a total of 941 cases of STSS. Experts predict that the number will be much higher this year; only in the first 10 weeks of the year, there were 474 cases of infection.

Strep A is an extremely contagious bacteria that involves human-to-human transmission, such as coughing, talking, sneezing and skin contact. Common symptoms include throat infection, skin infection and scarlet fever. In rare cases, the bacteria leads to serious infections, such as lung infection, blood infection and central nervous system infection. These risks are higher among those over 30 years old.

Overall, STSS has a fatality rate of 30%, which is considered extremely high. 

“Group A [Strep] has been around for a long time, and it’s something that we can treat very easily, but the fact that group A is turning into a toxic shock syndrome very easily, and I’m not sure why, is very concerning,” Director of Student Health Megan Snow said.

Experts are still investigating the cause of the recent surge in STSS cases. One explanation is that the government of Japan lowered the severity status of COVID-19, which undermined the importance of healthy habits. Japanese citizens have always prioritized following safety protocols, so this change contributed to the spread of contagions to some extent.

“There are still many unknown factors regarding the mechanisms behind fulminant (severe and sudden) forms of streptococcus, and we are not at the stage where we can explain them,” NIID said.

To minimize the risk, health officials recommend individuals to practice safety behaviors like washing or sanitizing hands, avoiding contact with infected individuals and using tissues while coughing or sneezing.

“I don’t know much, but hopefully it won’t be a huge outbreak,” senior Katherine Gorkov said. “If there is no vaccine for it or a cure or medicine, it can end up badly like Covid.”


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Andy Poll

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