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Rubella and Pregnancy
Health Guide
Rubella and Pregnancy
Rubella or German measles has special significance for pregnant women. Although having only limited effects on the mother the rubella virus can cause devastating damage to the unborn child. This is way medical experts believe that all adults and adolescents should be immune to rubella - this is done via vaccination (see Rubella and Vaccination on our HEALTHguide).

Congenital Rubella Syndrome
CRS is the name given to the condition that affects infants infected by the rubella virus through their mother during pregnancy. Common manifestations of CRS include:

  • deafness - the most common abnormality.
  • eye problems - cataracts, glaucoma.
  • congenital heart disease.
  • mental retardation - may not be apparent up to 2-4 year after birth.

The severity and risk of the effects of the rubella virus during pregnancy on the unborn child depend on the time during pregnancy when the rubella infection occurs. 85% of all infants infected in the first trimester (the first three months of pregnancy) will be affected after birth. It is important to note that even a seemingly inapparent infection of the mother will result in a birth defect.

Infants with CRS may be able to infect others with the rubella virus for up to 1 year after birth. This poses containment problems for those caring for the child as unless they are immune to the disease they may contract rubella from the infant.

How is CRS Prevented?
There are two ways to prevent the devastating effects of rubella on both the mother and the unborn child. The first step is to make sure that all women are immune before pregnancy - this protects the mother and the unborn child from the disease. The next step is to immunize all children, this protects the children themselves but it also prevents the spread of the disease. Community vaccination programs are the key to controlling rubella.

See our Rubella and Vaccination section on our HEALTHguide.

Reinfection of A Supposedly Immune Mother
Very occasionally a mother that is thought to be immune - either by previous infection or vaccination - may contract rubella during a pregnancy. Fortunately, rubella reinfection during pregnancy rarely results in the transmission of the virus to the child. Only rare CRS cases have been reported in mothers reinfected with rubella during pregnancy.

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