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(German Measles) 

Massachusetts Department of Public Health, l5oS*eq5i>r« Slreel, Boston, MA 021 11, (617) 727-0049, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Slith, Commissi 


What is rubella? 

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Rubella (German measles) is a very contagious viral disease. The virus, shod in the ncse and throat 
secretions of infected people, is spread through direct cont: rt with these secretions or through 
exposure to the cough or sneeze of an infected person. Althoj^h rube"a is most common among 
children and young adults, people of all ages can contract the disease. Rube'ia is -specially dangerous 
in women infected during pregnancy because the virus can severely damage the fetus Rubella can 
cause blindness, heart defects, mental retardation and death in babies mfeciea before birth. 

What are the symptoms of rubella? 

Rubella is usually a mild illness, with low-grade fever, headache, swelling of the lymph glands 
(especially those in the back of the neck), and a rash that lasts approximately th ee days. As many as 
half of the infections may occur without rash, particularly in children. Temporary s.. elling and pain in the 
joints may develop, especially in adults. Rubella can also cause a leinporarv bleeding disorder 
(purpura) or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), but these complications are rare and occur more 
frequently in adults than in children. 

Who gets rubella? 

Most cases of rubella occur in school-age children and young adults during the winter and spring 
months. Rubella cases have been reported every year in Massachusetts. It is estimated that one in five 
young adults in the U.S. today remains susceptible to rubella infection. 

Can rubella be prevented? 

Yes. Rubella vaccine confers immunity against the disease. The vaccine causes the body to 
manufacture rubella antibodies (virus fighters) just as it would if actually infected with rubella disease. 

Rubella vaccine is usually given in combination with measles and mumps vaccine to children at 15 
months of age. The vaccine is also recommended for older children and adults, especially women of 
childbearing age who are not immune to rubella. 

Is the vaccine safe and effective? 

More than 1 25 million doses of rubella vaccine have been gkan in the United States since the vaccine 
was licensed in 1969, and roughly 95 percent of vaccinated indi.idUcils developed immunity to the 
disease. A small number of children (about five percent) experience some aching or swelling of the 
joints, usually lasting only about two to three days after receiving rubella vaccine. This side effect is 
most common in teenagers and adults. 

Due to the risk of damaging the fetus, rubella vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women or 
women who expect to become pregnant within three months. People whose immune systems have 
been compromised because of disease or medication should also avoid receiving the vaccine. Mothers 
who are breast-feeding may safely be vaccinated against rubella without danger to their infants. 

What is the best way to protect a woman's fetus from the disease? 

The best way to protect the fetus is to reduce the mother's risk of becoming infected. This can best be 
done by ensuring that all children are immunized at 1 5 months of age, and by ensuring that women of 
childbearing age are immune. 

Is there a test for rubella immunity? 

Blood tests are commonly used to measure the amount of rubella antibodies in a person's blood. If a 
test shows that rubella antibodies are present, the individual is immune to future rubella infection. 

Because of the severe consequences of rubella infection during pregnancy, it is important for all women 
of childbearing age to know if they are protected against rubella. Overall, about one in six women of 
childbearing age is not protected against rubella. 

Should health care personnel take any special precautions to protect themselves 
against rubella? 

Health care personnel may be at increased occupational risk of exposure to rubella infection. Because 
rubella is very contagious, non-immune health care personnel should be vaccinated to prevent 
transmission to other health care providers and to patients, especially female patients of childbearing 
age. By law, health care workers who do not have a record of rubella vaccination or who lack laboratory- 
confirmed evidence of antibodies in their blood may not work from the seventh through the twenty-first 
days after being exposed to rubella. Clearly, it is in the interest of health care administrators, workers, 
and patients to make sure that such professionals are immune to rubella. 

Where can I get more information? 

Your personal physician 
Your local board of health 

In the telephone book under municipal government 

Massachusetts Department of Public Health 

Immunization Program (617) 727-2686 

Office of Public Information and Health Education (617) 727-0049 

Massachusetts Department of Public Health 

Immunization Program (617) 727-2686 

Central Regional Health Office (617) 886-471 1 

Northeast Regional Health Office (617) 851-7261 

Southeast Regional Health Office (617) 947-1231 

Western Regional Health Office (41.3) 549-1045 

Office of Public Information and Health Education v 617) 727-0049 

January 1 987