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Congenital rubella

Definition

Congenital rubella is a group of physical problems that occur in an infant when its mother is infected with the virus that causes German measles.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Congenital rubella is caused by the destructive action of the rubella virus on the fetus at a critical time in development. The most critical time is the first trimester (the first 3 months of a pregnancy). After the fourth month, the mother's rubella infection is less likely to harm the developing fetus.

The rate of congenital rubella has decreased dramatically since the introduction of the rubella vaccine.

Risk factors for congenital rubella include:

  • Not getting the recommended rubella immunization
  • Contact with a person who has rubella (also called the 3-day measles or German measles)

Pregnant women who are not vaccinated and who have not had rubella risk infection to themselves and damage to their unborn baby.

Symptoms

Symptoms in the infant may include:

  • Cloudy corneas or white appearance to pupil
  • Deafness
  • Developmental delay
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Low birth weight
  • Mental retardation
  • Seizures
  • Small head size
  • Skin rash at birth

Signs and tests

Laboratory tests, including blood and urine tests, are done to check for the virus.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for congenital rubella. Care involves appropriate treatment of affected systems in consultation with your health care providers.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outcome for a child with congenital rubella depends on the severity of problems present. Heart defects can often be corrected. Damage to the nervous system is permanent.

Complications

Complications may involve many parts of the body.

Eyes:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinitis

Heart:

Central nervous system:

  • Mental retardation
  • Motor retardation
  • Small head from failed brain development
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis

Other:

  • Deafness
  • Low blood platelet count
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Bone disease

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have concerns about congenital rubella, if you are unsure of your vaccination status, or if you or your children need a rubella vaccine.

Prevention

Vaccination prior to pregnancy can prevent congenital rubella. Pregnant women who are not immune to rubella should avoid contact with persons who have carry the virus.

References

Edlich RF, Winters KL, Long WB 3rd, Gubler KD. Rubella and congenital rubella (German measles). J Long Term Eff Med Implants. 2005;15(3):319-328.

Bar-Oz B, Levichek Z, Moretti ME, Mah C, Andreou S, Koren G. Pregnancy outcome following rubella vaccination: a prospective controlled study. Am J Med Genet A. 2004;130(1):52-54.

Robertson SE, Featherstone DA, Gacic-Dobo M, Hersh BS. Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome: global update. Rev Panam Salud Publica. 2003;14(5):306-315.


Review Date: 5/12/2009
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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