Tokyo closes Yoyogi Park amid dengue fever outbreak

Man who had not recently visited Yoyogi Park confirmed to have dengue

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 7:11pm

A man who had not recently visited Yoyogi Park nor travelled abroad has been confirmed to be infected with the dengue virus, the government said on Friday.

All the other 67 people in Japan recently confirmed to be infected with dengue had spent time in or around Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo, according to the health ministry.

The exception is a man in his 30s from Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry said. It said there is a possibility he contracted the illness when bitten by a mosquito in August while visiting Shinjuku Chuo Park, located about 2 kilometres north of Yoyogi Park.

The man complained of headache and fever but was not hospitalised and is in stable condition, the ministry added.

Yoyogi Park has been closed temporarily after dozens of cases of dengue fever were contracted by people who visited the area.

Since the cases were discovered, workers have been spraying the heavily forested Yoyogi Park, which is adjacent to the Meiji Shrine, a major tourist destination, and to Harajuku, a popular hangout for Japanese teens.

Health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki on Friday urged the public not to panic, but said all local governments would be given guidelines on how to identify and handle dengue, which is spread only by mosquitoes.

“Nobody has died,” Shiozaki said. “The public should remain calm.”

Dengue is endemic in much of tropical Asia, infecting tens of thousands of people and killing hundreds each year in places like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Dozens of cases are brought back to Japan each year, but health officials recently confirmed the first locally transmitted cases in 65 years. As of Thursday, the number of infections was reported at 55.

All those listed as having contracted the disease locally said they had visited the park or nearby before they got sick, the health ministry says.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, severe joint pain and headaches. There is no treatment, and some of those infected can suffer from severe and life-threatening bleeding.

The outbreak has been top news in Tokyo.

“I live nearby and have always ridden my bike and jogged in Yoyogi park. This is like my own garden. So I never expected this to happen,” said Kiyoshi Takabayashi, 67.

This week, the US embassy issued a security message to Americans about the cases, urging caution.

Shiozaki said he was not expecting the outbreak to spread or the number of cases to rise significantly. But he urged medical facilities and health authorities to be vigilant.

“With global warming, we should keep in mind the increasing likelihood of things that were not seen in the past,” he said.