Rubella Endangers Pregnant Women and their Developing Babies

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 Dr. Donald K. Murphey says “rubella is a big threat to pregnant women.”
Dr. Donald K. Murphey says “rubella is a big threat to pregnant women.”

Mega Doctor News

The bottom line: Rubella, also known as “German measles,” is a contagious disease caused by a virus. The illness can be especially serious for pregnant women and their unborn babies, causing miscarriages and birth defects. The tell-tale, pink rash is the most common symptom. Vaccination is the best way to prevent rubella among infants, children, teens, and adults.

It can be deceptively mild, causing no symptoms in up to half the people who get the viral illness. But if pregnant women get the disease, it can kill, causing miscarriages and stillbirths, or can leave the babies with lifelong disabilities.

While rubella has technically been eliminated in the United States, it is a problem around the world. Rubella remains one of several vaccine-preventable diseases that makes its way to the United States when unvaccinated people get infected during international travel.

The Texas Medical Association reports physicians urgingparents to make sure their babies are protected, as well as women who are planning to get pregnant.

“Certainly, we want to make sure children get their rubella vaccination as part of their routine vaccinations,” said Dr.Donald K. Murphey, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Austin. “And even before birth, we want their mothers to make sure they’re protected against rubella to safeguard their unborn babies. It’s a simple blood test your doctor performs as part of routine prenatal care,” added Dr. Murphey, TMA Council on Science and Public Health member.

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In the 1960s, rubella was common and widespread in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The last major U.S. epidemic in 1964-65 infected about 12.5 million people, caused 11,000 pregnant women to lose their babies, led to the deaths of 2,100 newborns, and resulted in 20,000 babies with birth defects.

Some older Americans may recall mass vaccination efforts to prevent the disease’s spread, after the rubella vaccine was introduced in 1969. The vaccine has been so effective, fewer than 10 people in the United States now get the illness each year, the CDC says. And since 2012, all U.S. cases were probably contracted outside the country.

the vaccine becoming available, rubella was a routine illness in most children, said Dr. Murphey. “There were epidemics of rubella every few years,” he said. Usually, school-aged children would have fever, a rash, and enlarged lymph nodes but no other severe complications.

“However, rubella is a big threat to pregnant women, during their first trimester,” said Dr. Murphey. “Rubella virus spreads from the mother to the developing baby to cause congenital rubella syndrome.”

“Congenital rubella can cause deafness, blindness, congenital heart disease, and sometimes intellectual challenges. People who have congenital rubella syndrome are either moderately or severely affected by it,” he said.

The MMR vaccine protects against rubella and two other diseases: measles and mumps. Children need two doses of MMR vaccine, at 12-15 months of age, and at 4-6 years of age. Teens and adults also should be up to date on their MMR vaccination. The MMR vaccine is more than 90-percent effective at preventing rubella.