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What is Congenital Rubella?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Congenital rubella is a disease that afflicts developing human fetuses. A mother who contracts the rubella virus during pregnancy can pass it on to her unborn child, which often leads to a number of physiological and developmental problems. A baby born with congenital rubella is at risk of experiencing deafness, vision problems, congenital heart disease, and several different blood disorders. There is no set cure for the disease, but doctors are usually able to treat many of the resulting health problems faced by infants.

The rubella virus has been almost completely eradicated in most countries, thanks to mandatory, effective vaccination efforts in place since the 1970's. Infants can only get congenital rubella in the womb if their mothers have not been vaccinated and are exposed to the virus shortly after conception. The risk is greatest when mothers contract the virus in the first trimester of pregnancy, with about 25% of infants becoming affected.

The most common symptoms associated with congenital rubella include some degree of deafness, blindness, and heart defects. A affected baby's eyes often appear cloudy white, and severe cataracts can cause permanent vision problems. Congenital heart disease can limit or entirely prevent proper blood flow. The central nervous system can also be affected, which can cause permanent brain damage, seizures, mental retardation, and impaired motor skills. Other symptoms include blood clotting disorders related to low platelet counts, bone disease, and an enlarged liver or spleen.

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The severity of symptoms can vary greatly between cases of congenital rubella. Some infants are born with very few symptoms or lingering health problems, while others face permanent difficulties or even life-threatening conditions. Doctors can diagnose rubella by conducting physical examinations and testing blood and urine samples from the infant. Laboratory tests can reveal the presence of the rubella virus and a range of different blood disorders.

When doctors recognize signs of congenital rubella in an infant, they attempt to identify the best means of treating specific conditions. Eye problems, bone disorders, and blood clotting problems can often be treated with medication. Heart and organ defects may require surgery to repair or replace damaged tissue. When central nervous system problems are present, there is usually very little doctors can do to prevent permanent damage.

A woman can prevent her child from contracting congenital rubella by getting a vaccination before pregnancy. If a vaccination is not available, she should be very careful to avoid others who might carry the virus. Individuals can obtain additional information about obtaining the rubella vaccine by visiting a local doctor or clinic.

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