No, a new STD, “more serious than AIDS”, has not been discovered in Japan

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A viral message in French-speaking Africa on Facebook since 2015, still shared in April 2022, claims, with supporting photo, that a “new sexually transmitted disease” has been discovered in Japan. This disease would be “more serious” than HIV and condoms would be of no use. But that’s not true, the WHO and Japan’s health ministry told AFP: No new STDs have recently been discovered in Japan. Moreover, the image associated with this rumor actually shows the symptoms of smallpox, eradicated for more than 40 years.

New sexually transmitted disease, discovered in Japan, more serious than AIDS, even a condom does not stop it“, warns the author of a publication shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook since September 2015. “So be careful“, she continues. The image that accompanies this legend is just as frightening: it shows the torso of a man with whitish skin and covered with pimples. This message circulates abundantly in French-speaking Africa, particularly in Benin (1) and in Democratic Republic of the Congo (1).

Screenshot of a Facebook post, taken on April 8, 2022

In the comments, Internet users say they are scared by this news. “It’s scary“, loose one of them. “It’s very awful“, writes another.

Screenshot of comments on a Facebook post, taken on April 8, 2022

This fear undoubtedly stems from the trauma caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to two-thirds (67%) of people living with HIV, according to the UN. Some 25.7 million people are living with this virus on the continent. In 2018, 470,000 people died of an AIDS-related illness in sub-Saharan Africa.

And it’s not just AIDS: in a June 2021 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) “estimates that more than 86 million per year the number of cases of curable sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis, which are recorded among people aged 15 to 45 years in the African region”.

“Incorrect Rumor”

However, the message circulating in French-speaking Africa announcing a new STI discovered in Japan is false.

Contacted on April 7, 2022 by AFP, the Japanese Ministry of Health declared that it had “no knowledge of such a new sexually transmitted disease, as described in the 2015 Facebook post“. A statement that is corroborated by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases of Japan: “this rumor is incorrect“, they write to AFP. “It’s possible he’s referring to the resurgence of syphilis (which is certainly not a new STD) in recent years in Japan.“, they add.

In its response to AFP, the WHO also denies this “fake” message.

There is therefore no new sexually transmitted disease which would have been discovered in Japan and for which the condom would be ineffective.

Furthermore, the image used for the misleading message is in no way linked to a sexually transmitted disease.

Smallpox, an eradicated disease

We did a reverse image search (here’s how to do it) and found it in the Alamy portal image bank. The accompanying caption says it shows a man with smallpox photographed by Georges Henry Fox in 1886.

Screenshot taken on alamyimages.fr, taken on April 8, 2022

The results of a quick Google search indicate that Georges Henry Fox was an American dermatologist. He has also published an illustrative book on skin diseases. On page 32 of this archived work is the photo used for the misleading Facebook post. She actually shows a patient with smallpox.

Screenshot of page 32 of George Henry Fox’s book, archived at archive.org

According to a WHO statement released on May 8, 2020, smallpox is a disease that has been eradicated. “On May 8, 1980, this note reads, the Thirty-Third World Health Assembly officially declared +all peoples of the world are free from smallpox+“.

The Organization explains that “this declaration marked the end of a disease that had devastated humanity for at least 3,000 years, claiming 300 million lives in the 20th century alone“.

A WHO archive presents smallpox as a disease “acute exanthematous” (with rash, editor’s note) caused by the variola virus. “The virus is transmitted from patients in the eruption phase to susceptible subjects, either at short distance by aerosols, or indirectly by contaminated bedding or clothing. alight.

The viral photo therefore does not show someone with a sexually transmitted infection, as the social media posts suggest. Moreover, “in terms of morbidity and complicated causes, HIV is the most worrying STI”, emphasizes Dr Ousmane Faye, virologist and head of the virology department of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

Asked if there is an STI against which the condom would be of no use or protection, Dr Faye answers: “I don’t think so but you have to bear in mind that zero risk does not exist“. As a means of preventing STIs, the WHO states that “condoms are one of the most effective methods of protection against STIs, including HIV“.

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