Rubella's Birth Defects Nearly Gone

Congenital Rubella Syndrome 'Almost a Thing of the Past' in U.S., Experts Say

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 07, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

April 7, 2006 -- U.S. health experts have announced that congenital rubella syndrome has virtually been eliminated in the U.S.

The announcement was made in the journal Birth Defects Research (Part A): Clinical and Molecular Teratology. "Teratology" is the study of birth defects.

"We are always pleased when we can broadcast good news. And today, we can," birth defects experts state in the journal. "Effectively, congenital rubella syndrome has been nearly eradicated from the United States."

The statement was endorsed by these scientific societies: the Teratology Society, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, the Neurobehavioral Teratology Society, and the Behavioral Toxicology Society.

The experts included Anthony Scialli, MD, of Sciences International in Alexandria, Va.

About Congenital Rubella Syndrome

"Congenital rubella syndrome is one of the types of birth defects that we know how to prevent," write Scialli and colleagues.

They explain that "congenital rubella syndrome occurs when pregnant women are infected with the rubella (German measles) virus, and immunization with rubella vaccine in the prepregnancy years prevents it." Babies born with congenital rubella syndrome may have deafness, blindness, and congenital heart disease.

Thanks to rubella vaccination, U.S. reports of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome have become very rare, the experts note.

"Reported rubella cases in the United States are now down to fewer than 10 cases last year, and in the past five years there have been only four cases of congenital rubella syndrome reported in the United States, and only one was a child whose mother had been born in the United States," according to the statement.

Vaccination Is the Key

Vaccination against rubella should remain a top priority, the experts write. They call for "effective strategies" to make sure countries worldwide also succeed in rubella vaccination.

In the U.S., the CDC recommends that all children get two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The first dose should be given when the child is 12-15 months old; the second dose at 4-6 years.

"These are the recommended ages," the CDC's web site states. "But children can get the second dose at any age, as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose."

"Some adults should also get MMR vaccine," the CDC also notes. "Generally, anyone 18 years of age or older, who was born after 1956, should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have either had the vaccines or the diseases."

However, the MMR vaccine isn't given to some people, including pregnant women and people with certain allergic reactions. Due to the risk of birth defects, the CDC advises women to avoid getting pregnant for at least four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Scialli, A. Birth Defects Research (Part A): Clinical and Molecular Teratology, April 2006; vol 76: p 215. CDC: "Measles, Mumps & Rubella Vaccines: What You Need to Know." News release, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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