Rubella in pregnancy: Things you need to know

Rubella is a virus causing disease which is also known as German measles. The rubella virus affects the skin and lymph nodes. It can cause rashes and irritation on the skin along with mild fever. All though in case of pregnant women it is a serious risk as the virus can be passed on to the baby in the uterus through the bloodstream.

Rubella virus as a disease can scare, but let us understand why rubella is dangerous during a pregnancy.

Rubella in pregnancy: Things you need to know

Complications caused by Rubella virus during pregnancy:

During the first 20 weeks of pregnancy if the new mom-to-be comes in contact with the virus, and then it can lead to the following complications.

– A miscarriage: The baby may die before 20 weeks of the gestation period.
– A premature birth: Where a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation period and has little chance of surviving.
– A stillbirth: The baby will die after 20 weeks.
– Congenital rubella syndrome: This virus known as CRS may pass on to the fetus in the womb through the bloodstream and can result in birth defects such as vision, hearing, heart, growth and bone development. It can also cause intellectual disability, spleen and liver damage in the newborn.

The risk of contact CRS is high if the newly pregnant mother is diagnosed with rubella in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and is low after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Causes of Rubella:

Rubella is caused when an infectious person sneezes or coughs. The infection is spread through the air and the droplets from the infected person may enter into a healthy person’s body through nose or mouth.

During pregnancy, as the immune system is weak there is more of a higher probability to be affected by the rubella virus. Hence, always keep an eye on infections and symptoms as well.

Symptoms of Rubella:

Some cases of rubella may not be symptomatic. But here are a few flu-like symptoms which may occur:
– Mild fever with a temperature of about 102 degrees F may stay for a few days.
– Stuffy nose, scratchy throat and cough
– Swelling and redness in the eyes, watering of the eyes
– Muscle pain
– Pink and reddish rashes appear on the skin and remain for three days
– Swelling and pain in lymph nodes appear for a week
– Stiffness in neck
– Persistent pain in the ear
– Headaches

In case the symptoms worsen, seek medical attention immediately.

Diagnosis of Rubella:

Rubella can be diagnosed by two methods.

1. A blood test:

In case you are vaccinated against rubella, the blood test will determine your immunity towards rubella based on the antibodies present in your body. The blood test is better known as serologic testing. It is tested to determine if the IgG and IgM antibodies are present in your blood. Usually, the IgG and IgM are at a peak in the bloodstream confirming the diagnosis. This blood test is conducted 7-10 days after the onset of rubella.

2. Viral culture:

This test involves testing of a body fluid sample like throat swab or nasal swab to detect the RNA of rubella virus for confirming infection. If one is affected by the rubella virus then the doctor will base their recommendations based on the antibodies present in your body.
Does Rubella have treatment?

In general, there are no effective methods of treating rubella. The symptoms can be addressed. If a new mother is exposed to the infection and does not wish to terminate the pregnancy, then they can be treated with rubella antibody shots known as hyperimmune globulin. This shot cannot prevent your baby from getting infected; it can help reduce the birth defects to some extent. The new mother will be now referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist (MFM), once rubella infection is confirmed. Once the baby is born, the health of the body will be monitored closely. There is not much which can be done to cure the rubella virus, but every measure taken can prevent it.

How to prevent Rubella during pregnancy?

The best way to prevent rubella is to get vaccinated before you are pregnant. Here are a few things one can do to not be infected by rubella to face miscarriages and birth defects.

Before getting pregnant:

Get vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) four weeks before getting pregnant

During pregnancy: Avoid taking the vaccination during pregnancy. Hence here are a few preventive measures such as: avoid close contact with people infected with rubella and seek medical attention immediately if you have come in contact with someone with rubella-like symptoms.

After pregnancy: Get the vaccination soon after delivery to avoid getting infected by rubella virus in all future pregnancies.

A few more preventive measures:

  • If one finds someone with rashes on their face or body, along with signs such as watery or red eyes, cold, runny or stuffy nose, avoid any contact with them.
  • Get children vaccinated against rubella.
  • If there is an outbreak of rubella in the places that you work or live then stay away from that place.
  • Do not use public toilets or attend public gatherings, where there are higher chances of getting the virus.

These are a few ways in which one can avoid a rubella attack and sail through a safe pregnancy without any miscarriage or birth defects in the newborn.

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