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Pregnancy and Rubella (German measles)

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Pregnancy and Rubella (German measles)
Rubella (German measles) is now rare in the UK as most people are vaccinated against it as part of the MMR jab.

If you are infected with rubella when you are pregnant it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects such as brain damage, heart defects, deafness or cataracts. This can happen if the infection is passed to the baby via the placenta and it is called congenital rubella syndrome. Rubella can cause the most harm to your baby if you catch it during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Rubella is a contagious diseases spread through airborne droplets when infected people cough and sneeze. At the start of your pregnancy you will have a blood test to see if you are immune to rubella. Being immune means it is very unlikely that your baby will be affected if you come into contact with the infection.

If you are planning a pregnancy you should check that you are immune to rubella. Even if you were vaccinated at school, it is possible that the effects have worn off. If you are not immune, you cannot have the jab if you are already pregnant because the vaccination contains a live virus which could infect the baby. For the same reason, you should wait at least a month after having the vaccination before you become pregnant.

You should also not have the vaccination if you are having chemotherapy, if your immune system is low any reason, or if you are allergic to the drugs neomycin or polymyxin.

Symptoms of rubella are mild and include fever, headache, joint pains and sore throat. After the glands swell, a rash of small pinkish red spots usually develops.

First Trimester

If you catch rubella in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy there about a 90% risk that your baby will be affected. The earlier in your pregnancy that you catch rubella, the greater the risk to the baby.

After the first 10 weeks, the risk to the baby is reduced. However, it is possible that they may develop sight problems or hearing difficulties later in life.

Second trimester

In weeks 14 and 15 there is still a risk that the baby will develop problems with their sight and hearing when they are older.

After 15 weeks the risk to the baby is significantly reduced.

Third Trimester

There is a relatively low risk to the baby's health if you are infected with rubella from week 16 to the birth.

If you are pregnant and you have not been vaccinated you must avoid contact with anyone who has rubella, especially in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. You should visit your doctor urgently if you do come into an infected person. They will offer you tests to see if you and your baby are affected. If you baby is affected with congenital rubella syndrome, your doctor or midwife will discuss your options with you. They will help you understand the illness and offer advice for dealing with birth defects. Depending on the severity of the infection, they might offer information about ending the pregnancy.

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