Japan's students warned about infectious diseases

Japan's students warned about infectious diseases
PHOTO: Japan's students warned about infectious diseases

Medical experts are advising overseas-bound students to thoroughly research conditions at their intended destination and take appropriate measures prior to departure, to help reduce the possibility of contracting an infectious disease.

In early August at the Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo-based travel clinic of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, medical director Shuzo Kanagawa administered vaccines and preventive medicines to 12 students setting off this month to destinations such as Africa, as part of the UN Youth Volunteers programme. Kanagawa also offered the students advice on topics such as avoiding insect bites while abroad.

According to the clinic, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of students seeking medical advice after returning from foreign countries. Last year, a Japanese university student was bitten by a mosquito in Africa while sleeping in local lodgings.

Upon returning to Japan, the student developed full-blown malaria and became seriously ill.

In one case, an individual contracted four different infectious diseases, including bacillary dysentery, while traveling in Asia. In other cases, Japanese have contracted hepatitis B in developed countries.

Though many other advanced nations ensure that infants are inoculated against the disease, many Japanese have had no such inoculations.

"There are more than a few illnesses that could have been avoided," said Narumi Hori, a specialist in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

With an eye on encouraging a global outlook among their students, an increasing number of universities are offering courses that include spending time out of the country.

For example, Kwansei Gakuin University awards course units to students who do voluntary work abroad, while Waseda University is pushing a policy - provisionally to be implemented by the 2032 school year - that would ensure all students spend time overseas as part of their studies.

However, if such international exchanges continue, the risk of infectious diseases entering Japan will increase. Last month, the first domestic dengue fever infection since 1945 was confirmed.

A Japanese woman in her teens was diagnosed with the disease, despite never having left Japan.

Additionally, there were cases last year in which Japanese citizens returned to the country likely infected with rubella after visiting locations such as Southeast Asia, where the disease is prevalent.

"Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, there has been a marked rise in the number of people who go abroad with the spirit of participating in volunteer work as if in Japan," said Prof. Atsuo Hamada of Tokyo Medical University Hospital's Travellers' Medical Center.

"Understanding different environments and taking appropriate action is the first step toward becoming a global citizen."Speech

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