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Definition

Rubella is an infection caused by a virus. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, she can pass the infection to the unborn baby. This infection can lead to severe birth defects, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The health problems due to the infection are called congenital rubella syndrome.

Rubella Rash
Rubella
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Causes

Congenital rubella syndrome is caused by an infection of the rubella virus. The virus first infects the mother. It then passes to the baby during pregnancy. The virus interrupts the development of the baby.

Risk Factors

There is a vaccination for rubella. If the mother has not had this vaccination, the baby has an increased risk of infection.

The infection is most dangerous to the baby in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Pregnancy in First Trimester
9th week fetus
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Symptoms

Symptoms can vary depending on the timing of the infection. Some problems caused by congenital rubella include:

  • Slowing of fetal growth
  • Small head circumference
  • Hearing loss
  • Dental problems and other bone problems
  • Abnormal smallness of one or both eyes
  • Enlargement of liver and spleen, including liver damage
  • Neurological abnormalities including developmental delay

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Other tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to look for evidence of recent infection with rubella virus
  • Imaging tests—to look for problems in the brain

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the results of the infection. Certain eye and heart defects may be treated with surgery shortly after birth. Early intervention programs may also help babies with hearing loss, vision loss, or intellectual disability. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plans for your child.

Prevention

Rubella vaccination for the mother can prevent congenital rubella syndrome. Screening for immunity may be done at premarital, preconception, or prenatal medical exams.

Infants with congenital rubella can spread the infection. Anyone taking care of your infant should be vaccinated against rubella.

Revision Information

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://familydoctor.org

  • Canadian Paediatric Society

    http://www.cps.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Congenital rubella syndrome. DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 30, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.

  • McLean H, Redd S, et al. Chapter 15: congenital rubella syndrome. VPD Surveillance Manual. 5th ed. 2012. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/surv-manual/chpt15-crs.pdf. Accessed July 22, 2013.