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Rubella and Pregnancy

UPMC Content 2

Rubella (roo-BELL-ah) is a virus. It is also called the 3-day measles or German measles. Children, teenagers, and adults can get this virus. It spreads from person to person. Rubella is a mild illness in children. But if a pregnant woman gets rubella, it can harm her baby.

Rubella and pregnancy

The first 3 months of pregnancy are the most dangerous. Rubella can cause several problems in a baby:

  • Hearing loss or deafness
  • Blindness or other eye problems
  • Heart, brain, or nerve problems These problems may last a lifetime.

If you had rubella while you were pregnant, be sure your baby’s doctor (pediatrician) knows. Take your child for checkups regularly. Some problems do not show up until later in childhood.

Are you at risk?

You are more at risk of getting the virus if:

  • You have never had rubella before
  • You have never had the rubella vaccine

If you become pregnant and have not had rubella or the vaccine, you could get rubella. You are at risk if you come in close contact with someone who has rubella.

You might be immune

If you have had rubella, you cannot get it again. If you had the rubella vaccine, you cannot get rubella. Most people who grew up in the United States had the rubella vaccine as children. If you are not sure if you have had rubella or the vaccine, a simple blood test can tell you. If you are planning a pregnancy, have the test at least 6 months before you plan to get pregnant. If the test shows you are immune, you will not have to worry about rubella.

Should you get the vaccine?

If the test shows you are not immune, it may be a good idea to get the vaccine. But the vaccine is not for everyone.

Check with your health care provider before getting the rubella vaccination. You should NOT have this vaccine if:

  • You are pregnant or planning to be pregnant within 3 months.
  • You are sick with a fever or illness more serious than a cold.
  • You have cancer, leukemia, or lymphoma.
  • You have a disease or take any medicine (like prednisone, cortisone, or anti-cancer drugs) that lowers the body’s immune system.
  • You have received gamma globulin (immune globulin) within the previous 3 months.
  • You have had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic called resmycin.

Mothers who are breast-feeding may be safely vaccinated against rubella.

Possible side effects

As many as 1 in 4 adults who get the rubella vaccine may have some aching or swelling of the joints. This can happen from 1 to 3 weeks after the shot. It usually lasts only 2 or 3 days. Side effects are not common. You may have pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet.

Do you have rubella?

If you have rubella, a rash is the first sign that you see. But rubella starts 2 to 3 weeks before the rash appears. A few days before the rash, an infected person may have swollen, painful lumps behind the ears, in the neck, and around the lower back of the head. The tenderness goes away in a day or two. The swelling lasts longer.

The rash may start on the face. It quickly spreads down the body, arms, and legs. It usually lasts about 3 days, but sometimes it goes away before that. Sometimes there is no rash at all. A mild fever may go along with the rash. Other symptoms are headache, loss of appetite, sore throat, and a general sick feeling.

If you think you may have rubella, call your doctor. And, until you know or your doctor says it is all right, it is a good idea to stay away from pregnant women and babies.​

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