Recent Cases Bring Awareness

Congenital rubella syndrome is extremely rare, but a few recent cases in the US have brought it back to the attention of health care providers and other professionals. Are you immune?

Pregnancy and rubella

Rubella is a disease that most children in the US are vaccinated for starting at around one year of age with the combination MMR immunization. Since most Americans are immune, rubella, also known as the German measles, doesn’t crop up all that often. However, three babies were born in 2012 with congenital rubella syndrome, which has prompted providers and other experts to be aware of certain birth defects.


Rubella is uncommon in the US but it is a relatively mild disease in children and adults. The problem is when a pregnant woman contracts the disease. It’s especially dangerous if she is in her first trimester -- it can lead to serious birth defects in the newborn, such as cataracts, hearing problems and heart abnormalities, and the affected baby’s prognosis is poor. This is what prompted the rubella vaccination program in the 1960s, and there have been no endemic cases of rubella in the US since 2009.

However, rubella outbreaks still occur in other countries, particularly developing countries where access to the vaccine is hard to come by.

Modern cases

In 2012, three babies were reported to have been born in the United States with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). One baby died and the other two face monumental hurdles to overcome. The mothers had no documented rubella vaccine, and were all born and likely infected in Africa.

The cases serve as a warning to obstetricians and other physicians and they are urged to look into rubella immunity if a baby is born with symptoms that are compatible with the syndrome. "While we are fortunate in the United States that most individuals have been vaccinated and are immune, health care providers that serve foreign-born populations must be aware that other countries may have much lower immunity rates," said Dr. Martin Chavez, director of maternal fetal medicine in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York. "Efforts should be made to document or verify the immune status of all reproductive-age women."

Your rubella immunity

Often, when you present at your obstetrician's office for the first time during a pregnancy, you may be checked to see if you are immune to the disease. If you’re planning a pregnancy, it is suggested that you are checked at least three months before your planned conception so you have time to get vaccinated.

More on pregnancy

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Blood tests during pregnancy
Four key steps to a healthy pregnancy

Tags: immunizations

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