HSFK: Rubella


Because rubella is so rare in the United States, chances are if you are a kid, you might not even have heard of it!  However, even though it is unusual to get this infection anymore — and although it is mild in most cases in children — it can be very serious if a women gets it when she is pregnant with a baby.  This is why vaccines are so important to the health of unborn children.

Let’s talk more about rubella.

What is Rubella?

Rubella is an infection that someone gets when they come into contact with the rubella virus. Usually, this happens with someone who has rubella coughs or sneezes and someone else breathes in this droplets or touches a surface that has been contaminated. It is a VERY infectious condition, which is why, before the vaccine for mumps was invented, there were epidemics of it in the United States, where a lot of people would get sick of it in a short period of time.

Rubella is also called German measles, but it is different from the regular measles, which are usually caused by the rubeola virus.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rubella?

The signs and symptoms that someone gets when they are infected with rubella can be a lot different from one person to another.  And as a matter of fact, it is estimated that around 25-50% of adults and children both who get this disease are asymptomatic, when they did not have symptoms at all.

In those who do show signs and symptoms of infection, they can also show a variety of possible signs and symptoms, include:

  • A red rash that begins on the face and but can spread to the stomach, back arms and legs (including the hands and feet).
  • A headache and body aches
  • A sore, hoarse throat or swollen lymph nodes in the area of the neck or the throat.
  • Red, tender eyes (pink)
  • Women who get this virus are at risk for developing painful, swell is a good way to handle it for not.

The biggest threat from rubella, however, comes when it happens to a woman who is already pregnant.

Why is a Rubella Vaccine Needed for Pregnant Women?

Although it is unusual here in the United States,  it is still possible for people to contract it. And if a woman contracts this when she is pregnant, she can lose the baby (this is called having a miscarriage), the baby can die shortly after birth or the baby can be born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). This syndrome includes:

  • Problems seeing, due to a condition called cataracts
  • Mental retardation or delayed development
  • Heart defects
  • Slowed growth and development

There is no cure for CRS and it will require a lifetime of treatment and care. The good news is, however, that this problem is 100% preventable with use of vaccinations.

How is Rubella Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosing and treating rubella are both fairly straightforward.

Sometimes, a rubella-related rash can resemble other kinds of rashes or skin conditions. However, it is possible to send a small skin sample to the lab to have it analyzed and make sure the diagnosis is correct.

Treatment for rubella involves isolating the infected person and letting the infection run its course with rest and other comfort measures.  There is no way to shorten the length of the illness and there is no way to treat a pregnant woman once she has been exposed to this infection.

How Can You Prevent Rubella?

The very best way to prevent getting rubella in the first place is for your parents to make sure that you get your full series of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shots which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends as part of the Well Baby and Well Child checkups that you will have with your doctor during the first few years of your life.

Does the MMR Vaccine Work?

The good news about rubella is that the vaccine for it really does work. It’s scary to think about, but at one point in American history, rubella was a common childhood disease and a lot of people came down with it. The last major epidemic of rubella happened in 1964-1965.  Over 12.5 million people got this infection, including pregnant women.  Of those women, 11,000 lost their babies before they were born and another 2,100 lost them shortly after birth.  And 22,000 babies were born with CRS.  In other words, this was a serious problem — and vaccines helped to solve it. Today, because of vaccines, rubella is no longer considered to be native to the United States and there are only 10 or so reported cases every year.

So — rubella is serious. It is especially serious if a woman gets this infection while she is pregnant because of the problems it can cause her unborn baby.  However, the great news is that with vaccination, this infection can be prevented to begin with children and their moms can be protected just by getting this recommended series of shots.

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