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Many question the importance of the rubella vaccine, also called the German measles vaccine, because for most, the symptoms of rubella are very mild. The condition lasts for about 3-5 days with fever, skin rash and swollen glands. Most make a complete recovery without complications.
The majority of rubella infections occur in young adults, who may suffer a slightly longer course of the illness. Most of these adults have not received the rubella vaccine or the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccination. Others have received the vaccine, but may not have maintained immunity to rubella.
If the only causes of rubella were a few days of discomfort, there would be no need for a rubella vaccine. However, a serious and significant complication exists for pregnant women who contract rubella. Researchers have found that rubella in pregnant women is particularly dangerous to the unborn child.
Rubella infection in a pregnant mother is indicated in spontaneous abortion. As well, congenital rubella contracted from the mother, can cause severe retardation in the unborn child, failure to thrive in utero, congenital heart defects, and defects of the eyes. Additionally, the unborn child’s liver, spleen and/or bone marrow are affected, may fail to form properly, or fail to function properly.
These severe effects of rubella exposure to the unborn child convince most that the rubella vaccine is very important. Women wishing to become pregnant can have a simple test done prior to conceiving to test rubella immunity. If they are found to be not immune, they receive the vaccine but are asked not to get pregnant for at least a month after the vaccination.
Pregnant women should never receive the rubella vaccine. It can cause the same damage to the unborn child as having an active case of rubella would cause. So those who think they might be pregnant should check prior to receiving the vaccine.
An infant who has had contracted rubella in utero, can often be contagious with the illness for up to a year after birth. Rubella can be shed through excretions from the nose or through urine. An infant with congenital rubella should not be around pregnant women who are not immunized. If the child is in daycare, it is possible for the child to spread the disease to either caretakers who are not immune, or to other children. Parents should notify any potential caregivers about possible contagion, so they can receive the rubella vaccine.
It is estimated, that in the US alone, approximately 10% of young adults are not immune to rubella. This means these adults are at risk for having their unborn children develop congenital rubella syndrome if the adults are exposed to rubella while pregnant. Some colleges have taken an active stance on helping young people receive the rubella vaccine so they can avoid risking the health and lives of their future children.
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