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Bioscience-Medicine

Rubella Poses Grave Threat For Pregnant Women

A child’s eyes, which exhibited cloudy regions within the pupils that represented cataracts of the lenses, determined to be due to a case of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), caused when the rubella virus affected the child in utero.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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A child’s eyes, which exhibited cloudy regions within the pupils that represented cataracts of the lenses, determined to be due to a case of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), caused when the rubella virus affected the child in utero.";

A confirmed case of rubella in Austin should serve as an alert to pregnant women, particularly unvaccinated pregnant women.

Dr. Jason Bowling, an associate professor of infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio, said of the three viruses included in the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella), rubella causes the mildest illnesses in most people. However, pregnant women who contract rubella — particularly during the first trimester — are at risk for grave consequences.

"The risk is that if a pregnant woman gets rubella, they could have a miscarriage, they could have a stillbirth or they could have congenital rubella syndrome," Bowling said.

In the days before there was a vaccine against the rubella virus, congenital rubella syndrome was far more common. 

"Most common symptoms seen with congenital rubella syndrome are cataracts. You can have seeing and hearing impairments that include deafness, and you can see congenital heart defects as well," Bowling said.

Some infectious diseases experts have been watching for a rise in congenital rubella syndrome. Their concern stems from the fallout of a long discredited study linking the MMR vaccine to autism. The Wakefield study, as it’s become known, was published in 1998 and marks the start of the anti-vaccination movement. Children who were not vaccinated back then are now old enough to have their own children and are at risk of contracting rubella. 

Women should not be vaccinated against rubella during pregnancy. The vaccine contains a weakened live form of the virus, which poses a theoretical risk to the fetus.

Anyone else who is not vaccinated against the virus should get the vaccine now. 

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.