While people in Japan have been gasping and coughing due to so-called PM 2.5 air pollutants mingled with the yellow dust from mainland Asia, Nikkan Gendai (March 20) serves up a reminder that AIDS, despite relatively quiet media coverage, remains a serious public health threat.
According to the latest statistics from Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the total number of new reported cases of people testing positive for the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) during 2012 reached 1,001. In addition, some 445 new patients were diagnosed as having full-blown AIDS.
While those figures show a slight decline from 2011 (1,056/473 cases) and 2010 (1,075/469), this should not be cause for celebration. For one thing, the figures only reflect results of those who have been tested, and there's no telling how many more latent cases exist. The incubation period for AIDS, during which time a carrier may be unaware he or she has been infected, may range from six months to 15 years.
Between October and December of last year, 257 new cases of HIV infection were reported to the ministry, of whom 241 were Japanese and 16 foreign nationals. Of these, for 216 the source of infection was in Japan, as opposed to 10 overseas. (Sources for the other 31 were uncertain.) Broken down by age segment, the hardest-hit group was those ages 30-39, with 94 cases, followed by 83 cases for ages 20-29, and 59 cases for ages 40-49.
Nikkan Gendai warns that members of the postwar baby boom generation, now in their early 60s, are retiring in greater numbers. With more leisure to travel abroad -- their share of the total number of Japanese going overseas rose from 16% in 2005 to 20% in 2010 -- they are emerging as the new high-risk group.
Just minutes away from Manila's 5-star Hyatt Hotel is Mabini Ave, full of karaoke lounges and go-go bars, where female companionship is as easy as crooking a finger. In Bangkok's Patpong Road district, which offers similar delights, new HIV cases are said to have risen 25% since last year.
In China, public health officials released that country's highest figures ever for last year -- 68,802 new HIV cases between January and October. One reason for the increase: only 46% of Beijing's 90,000 prostitutes are said to insist that their johns wear protection.
The danger signs of HIV infection aren't always clear, but generally, between two to eight weeks following exposure, from 50 to 90% of infected individuals report flu-like symptoms, such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and skin rashes.
Treatment, in the form of a regimen of drug "cocktails" to prevent full-blown AIDS, isn't cheap. The uninsured in Japan can expect to pay 200,000 yen a month. A source at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Shinjuku says that even with national health insurance, monthly out-of-pocket costs will easily come to 60,000 yen.
For those who can pull it off, there is one money-saving loophole: obtain certification as a disabled person, and the cost of treatments will drop, from 20,000 yen per month to completely free in some cases.
About one person out of three diagnosed with symptoms of AIDS is hospitalized, and it's common to stay there for two to three months at a time.
One of the biggest problems confronting an infected person is whether or not to inform his or her employer of the condition, and it appears that many choose to cover it up; but should prolonged hospitalization be required, the cause will almost certainly come out eventually. PLACE TOKYO, an NPO based in Shinjuku, tells the tabloid that about 40% of HIV sufferers wind up leaving their employer and are unable to find regular jobs after that.© Japan Today