Recent news of a Texas Christian University student's rubella diagnosis highlights just how important vaccinations are.
Rubella, a contagious virus spread in airborne droplets through coughing or sneezing, was recently declared eradicated in the United States. However, we are seeing more and more of these eradicated diseases pop up because people are not getting vaccinated.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccination rate for seventh-graders during the 2014-15 school year was 99 percent. That’s a high percentage, but we must not let our guard down.
While most people who contract rubella experience only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, the virus is extremely dangerous for a pregnant woman’s unborn baby, as it can cause miscarriage or birth defects.
Rubella symptoms typically appear five to seven days after exposure, but can manifest as late as 14 to 21 days. Teens and adults tend to experience more severe symptoms than children.
The initial symptoms are similar to a cold: sore throat, runny nose, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Three to five days later, a red or pinkish-while rash may appear on the face and spread to the chest and abdomen. The rash may then extend to the arms and legs. Patients also may complain of joint pain, but that is less common.
Complications from rubella are rare – except in the case of unborn children – but they can occur. In rare cases, rubella can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the covering of the brain that can be fatal.
Danger during pregnancy
Pregnant women who contract rubella experience the same symptoms as other people. However, as the virus moves through the blood and into the baby, it can cause congenital rubella syndrome, leading to serious birth defects such as:
- Low birth weight
- Heart problems
- Hearing and vision loss
- Intellectual disabilities
Having rubella during pregnancy also can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Your physician will screen you during pregnancy for infection and immunity to rubella. The risk is highest during the first trimester. If rubella is contracted later in pregnancy, the risk lessens but is still there.
When to see a doctor
If you have been exposed to rubella, or you have children at TCU and are concerned that they have been exposed, an easy blood test or throat swab can confirm immunity or presence of the disease.
If you begin to experience symptoms, see your doctor immediately. In rare cases, even people who have received the MMR vaccine may experience symptoms. If diagnosed within 72 hours of symptoms, you can receive the MMR vaccine again, which can protect you from the virus.
Vaccines are developed and studied in detail over years to confirm their effectiveness and safety, yet we still find ourselves battling misperceptions. The most prevalent among these is an unsupported fear of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which multiple studies have shown to be untrue.
We’ve come a long way in eliminating some of these serious diseases, but a lack of vaccinations sometimes brings them back, such as the recent national measles outbreak. Measles also is covered in the MMR vaccine.
We recommend all children without health problems receive the MMR vaccine. Adults who were not vaccinated as children also should get their shots, especially if they:
- Work in healthcare or nursing home settings
- Are college students
- Travel to regions where rubella is still common
Once you’ve received both doses of the vaccine, no booster is needed later in life.
Rubella is preventable by making sure you and your children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. When you become vaccinated, you protect yourself, you protect your family, and you protect everyone around you.