There it was, on the front page of the Sept 19 edition of Kyushu's largest daily newspaper, the Nishi Nihon Shimbun: "Rapid increase in AIDS cases in Kyushu: 61% rise in Fukuoka in 2016."
For some, the news may have thrown a wet blanket on the SoftBank Hawks' celebrations in winning the first round of the Pacific League pennant.
Last year, reports Asahi Geino (Oct 5), 46 new cases of people testing HIV positive were reported in Fukuoka Prefecture, bringing the combined number of HIV and AIDS cases to 92. While the figure may seem small, it's the highest ever recorded, representing a 61% increase over the previous year. A total of 308 cases have been reported in Fukuoka since 2011.
What's interesting is that all other prefectures in Kyushu, with the exception of Kumamoto, also reported a rise in new cases. In alphabetical order, with the number of cases in parentheses, were Kagoshima (26 cases); Miyazaki (22); Nagasaki (13); Oita (12); and Saga (5).
It should be noted that while the number of HIV-positive cases in Japan's three largest metropolitan areas were much higher, the numbers reported in Tokyo, Aichi and Osaka all declined from previous years.
More disturbing, the article notes, is that Kyushu now accounts for 30% of the nation's cases of full-blown AIDS, half of which reside in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Predictably, the news attracted the usual emotional posts on internet bulletin boards. "It's because there are lots of homosexuals in Kyushu," one posted. "Since Kyushu is geographically closer to the Asian mainland, visitors from there are spreading it. Let's quarantine Kyushu!" another exhorted.
To investigate the reasons for the contagion, the magazine asked Dr Hideomi Nakahara, a specialist in infectious diseases.
"We can't be sure if the numbers of patients have actually increased, or if the figures are higher because more people are getting tested," Nakahara remarked, although he supposes the reason is the former. "We don't know the reason why it's happening in Kyushu, but it's possible that the spread is localized."
A public health official in Fukuoka told the magazine, "In the 2015 report, the total number of 27 new cases was seen as fairly low. We suppose that the jump in cases resulted from people not getting tested during 2015, and then starting to show symptoms of AIDS last year."
A report by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare published on Aug 30 noted that "The number of newly reported HIV and AIDS cases has been stable." From 2001 to 2015, the ministry has issued new data for cases in all of Japan's 47 prefectures every five years. From 2001 to 2005, for example, 87 known cases were reported in Fukuoka. This rose to 230 from 2006 to 2010, and then to 308 during 2011-2015.
"Fukuoka's status as 'doorway of the west' is seen as an important factor," the aforementioned public health official was quoted as saying. "The large number of tourist arrivals coming from nearby Asian countries may be one factor."
Reporter Takayori Maeda notes that Fukuoka has a lively gay community with numerous hattenba (places for gay encounters), as well as parts of the town where gay prostitutes in drag cruise the streets around short-time hotels. Some may be female impersonators from other Asian countries.
"Because drug treatments can control the virus after infection, AIDS is not feared as much as it was in the 1980s, and coverage by the media has also declined," remarked Dr Nakahara. "You don't want people spreading rumors about your having caught it. It can be prevented through proper precautions during sex. Especially for encounters with a first-time partner, use of condoms is essential.
"People should take steps to protect themselves through preventative measures," he advised.© Japan Today