Photo/Illutration In this November 2016, file photo, a doctor vaccinates an office worker against rubella in Tokyo's Koto ward. (Shin Matsuura)

A male character in the popular "Kounodori" manga series is urged by his pregnant wife to get vaccinated against rubella.

But he says he is "too busy" and "can't be bothered" and keeps putting it off, until he is deeply shaken up by a chance meeting with a 10-year-old girl with a congenital disability.

"I got rubella when I was in my mother's belly," she tells him. "I'm blind, and my chest hurts."

Hers was a case of congenital rubella syndrome, a condition that occurs in a baby whose mother was infected with a rubella virus early in her pregnancy.

The current rubella outbreak in Japan, which began last summer, has yet to be brought under control. The number of patients has already exceeded 2,000 this year, raising grave concerns about potential in utero infections.

The governments of the United States and Canada have judged Japan to be "extremely dangerous for pregnant women" and issued travel alerts. Travelers are warned to stay away from Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka in particular, the prefectures with high concentrations of patients.

Naturally, the Japanese government is taking the situation seriously. As many Japanese men aged 40 to 57 are known not to carry rubella antibodies, they have been issued coupons for free shots and antibody tests.

Embarrassingly, I was not aware that I belonged in that category.

For pregnant women, every middle-aged man they pass on the street is a potential threat.

I went to get myself tested the other day. Much to my relief, my doctor told me that my antibody count was good enough that I did not require a shot.

In the manga, the protagonist--a female ob-gyn doctor by the name of Sakura Konotori--explains: "Men without rubella antibodies don't realize they've infected someone, and the pregnant women who were infected will never know who were responsible, and their babies suffer the consequences."

I was reminded anew that a rubella shot is the only means for protecting unborn babies.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.