Medical Q&As

Rubella - serious in infancy?

Is German measles serious in a baby of 6 months?

German measles is also known as rubella. It is a highly contagious form of viral infection. The condition begins with fever, swollen lymph glands behind the ears and a rash on the face. The spotty rash then spreads onto the trunk and finally extends to involve the arms and legs. A person with rubella can spread the virus for 5 days before the rash appears and for up to a week after the rash fades. It is spread by droplet infection, which is the mode of transmission common to most upper respiratory infections. The condition is not serious for children and it usually runs a relatively trouble free course. Therefore I would not be concerned about its possible impact on the six-month-old child you refer to in your question. The main worry with rubella is that it can have serious consequences if a pregnant mother becomes infected with the virus. The rubella virus can affect the unborn child at any stage of development but the risk is greatest within the first three months of pregnancy. The consequences could include congenital heart disease, deafness, blindness, mental retardation, early miscarriage or even stillbirth. The risk of damage from the rubella virus persists right up to the final weeks of pregnancy. Rubella vaccination was incorporated into the MMR vaccine several years ago in an effort to eliminate the disease as a threat to the foetus. The recent decline in the uptake of MMR vaccine raises the very real threat of several rubella babies being born in Ireland. This would be a great tragedy because the consequences for the child and family of that child could be considerable.