Rubella is a viral illness that tends to have the same symptoms as many other illnesses, which makes it hard to recognize and diagnose. Furthermore, over 50% of rubella cases report mild to nonexistent symptoms. If symptoms are present, they usually manifest themselves approximately 2-4 weeks after the initial infection. Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, congestion, fever, headache, runny nose, rash, joint pain and swelling. Rubella is most contagious when the rash appears, which should only last a few days.
Rubella can cause various birth defects, miscarriage, preterm birth or stillbirth. These risks are at their highest during the early stages of a pregnancy when the baby is rapidly developing. The unfortunate part is that pregnant women can’t receive the rubella vaccine. If a pregnant mother gets the rubella virus during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy there is an 85% chance that the baby will develop Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). This risk decreases to approximately 54% for pregnant women who become infected between her 13th and 16th week of pregnancy, and after the 20th week there is almost zero risk of infection that could cause a birth defect. The risk of CRS for fetuses continues to drop even further as a pregnancy progresses.
CRS has several serious health problems associated with it including heart defects, neurological problems, possible mental retardation, possible deafness and eye defects. These defects can be present at the time of birth or can develop later on during infancy and/or childhood.
Pregnant women who are not immune to rubella can reduce the risk of infection by postponing trips to locations where rubella is still common, ensuring that everyone else including other children in a given household is either immune or given the rubella vaccine and/or avoiding excessive contact with others in a given community should there be a known case of rubella outbreak in the area. Generally speaking, women who are planning on becoming pregnant should either ensure they are immune or receive the vaccine before actively trying to conceive.