Congenital Rubella Symptoms & Causes

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We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions here, and when you meet with our experts, we can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.

Background
A baby may contract a rubivirus infection in the uterus when the mother catches rubella and carries it through her bloodstream to the baby.

  • The developing fetus is especially vulnerable to illness because its immune system is not yet strong enough to permanently fight off infection.

Since a baby in utero cannot completely get rid of an infection, the rubivirus remains in the body, and can lead to congenital rubella syndrome, which may damage the child's developing organs, especially during the first trimester.

Causes

A woman who gets rubella during her pregnancy can pass it on to her unborn child, causing the syndrome.

The rubivirus does the most damage to a developing fetus during the first trimester. After the fourth month, the mother's rubella infection is less likely to harm the fetus.

  • If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least 28 days beforehand. Because the vaccine is a live virus, women who are pregnant should not be vaccinated.

How is rubella spread?
Rubella spreads through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat.

  • The rubivirus that causes rubella can also be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

 

What is the likelihood that my baby will get congenital rubella syndrome?
Most adults and children have already been vaccinated against rubella, so the risk of a baby being born with congenital rubella syndrome is extraordinarily low.

  • Fewer than five infants each year are diagnosed with congenital rubella syndrome.

Symptoms

Babies born with congenital rubella syndrome may have some or all of the following symptoms:

Long-term outlook

The long-term outlook for a child born with congenital rubella syndrome depends on the severity of the birth defects. If your baby has problems with his heart, they can often be corrected, while nervous system damage can often be irreversible.

Because there is no cure for congenital rubella syndrome, it’s important to prevent it. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least 28 days beforehand.

If your baby is born with congenital rubella syndrome, specific symptoms of the disease can be treated accordingly.

Prevention

Because there is no cure for congenital rubella syndrome, it’s important to prevent it. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least 28 days beforehand.

  • If you are already pregnant, DO NOT get the rubella vaccine, as it contains a live version of the virus. 

FAQ

Q: What is congenital rubella syndrome?

A: A baby can be born with birth defects as a result of congenital rubella syndrome if a mother infected with rubella passes the rubivirus to her fetus.  

Q: Why is congenital rubella syndrome a problem?
A:
The rubivirus can be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

  • Babies born with congenital rubella syndrome may have severe birth defects.

Q: What are the chances my baby will be born with congenital rubella syndrome?
A:
The good news is that rubella is very uncommon now that children are vaccinated for the disease.

  • Only 30 to 60 cases of rubella are documented each year in the United States. Fewer than five infants each year are diagnosed with congenital rubella syndrome.

Q: How can congenital rubella syndrome be prevented?

A: If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least 28 days beforehand.

  • If you are already pregnant, DO NOT get the rubella vaccine, as it contains a live version of the virus.

Q: How is congenital rubella syndrome diagnosed?

A: If your child is born with symptoms consistent with congenital rubella syndrome, a simple blood test can test for the presence of the virus in the bloodstream.

Q: What symptoms might my baby have?
A:
Babies born with congenital rubella syndrome may have some or all of the following symptoms:

Q: What are our treatment options?

A: Because there is no cure for congenital rubella syndrome, Children’s specialists treat specific symptoms of the disease — such as problems with the heart, eyes and nervous system.

Q: What is my child’s long-term outlook?

A:The long-term outlook for a child born with congenital rubella syndrome depends on the severity of the birth defects. If your baby has problems with his heart, they can often be corrected, while nervous system damage can often be irreversible.

Because there is no cure for congenital rubella syndrome, it’s important to prevent it. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor for the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at least 28 days beforehand.

Q: What makes Children’s different?

A: Our physicians are expert, compassionate and committed to focusing on the whole child, not just his condition—that’s one reason we’re frequently ranked as a top pediatric hospital in the United States.

Physicians and researchers in our Division of Infectious Diseases are constantly learning more about how diseases develop and spread as well as how the body uses its defenses to fight back. 

And at Children’s, we consider you and your child integral parts of the care team and not simply recipients of care. You and your care team will work together to customize a plan of care for your child.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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