Risks at a glance:

  • Brain infections 
  • Bleeding problems
  • Women who get rubella may experience arthritis
  • Rubella is the leading vaccine-preventable cause of birth defects in the world. Rubella infection in pregnant women may cause the baby to die, or congenital defects known as congenital rubella syndrome. The results of congenital rubella syndrome can include: heart problems, loss of hearing and eyesight, intellectual disability, liver or spleen damage, low birth weight, thyroid and other hormone problems, Inflammation of the lungs, and a skin rash at birth.

About the disease:
People with rubella can have a fever, headache, runny nose, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eyelids and eye), rash, swollen glands (especially at the back of the neck), and joint pain. Symptoms, particularly joint pains, are more severe in adults.

How it is spread:
Rubella is spread by direct contact, by airborne droplets from coughing and sneezing or by contact with an infected person’s hands, tissues or other infectious items.

There is no cure for rubella, treatment of symptoms includes plenty of fluids and pain relief if required.

Impact of rubella:
In countries without a rubella containing vaccine congenital rubella syndrome is still affecting many babies. Without rubella vaccination, in 1996 approximately 22,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome in Africa, an estimated 46,000 in South-East Asia and close to 13,000 in the Western Pacific. As recent as 2008 these same countries still did not have rubella containing vaccines and the numbers of babies born with congenital rubella syndrome is thought to be the same.

In countries that do have rubella containing vaccines the rubella virus is rare, and so is congenital rubella syndrome. Before the rubella vaccine was introduced in America, a rubella epidemic happened during 1964–1965 with around 12.5 million cases of rubella causing more than 2000 cases of encephalitis, 11,250 cases of miscarriage, 20 000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome, 8000 cases of deafness, 3580 babies born deaf–blind, and 1800 children born with intellectual disabilities.

Two doses of rubella containing vaccine are 97% effective against rubella infection.

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Click here to see Ian’s story about living with congenital rubella syndrome after his mum got rubella while pregnant with him.