Rubella and sensory impairment

Rubella, also known as German measles, is a mild and preventable viral disease that is now rare in the UK. This is thanks to the introduction of the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which has almost eradicated the virus.

A baby born affected by rubella is said to have congenital rubella syndrome. Many will have hearing loss, cataracts, other eye conditions, damage to the brain and heart problems that will affect them throughout their life. Some may also have additional needs, such as autism and learning disabilities. Indeed, no two children will experience the effects of congenital rubella syndrome in the same way.

The risk of congenital rubella syndrome depends on how early in the pregnancy a mum is infected.

Find out more about congenital rubella syndrome from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health website.

Sense was founded in 1955 by two mums who caught rubella while pregnant, which meant that their children were born deafblind. This is why we remember rubella today, and encourage you to protect your child and others through the MMR vaccination.

What is rubella?

If you catch rubella you may feel unwell, with swollen glands, a slight temperature, or a sore throat and rash. It's usually a mild condition that gets better without treatment in seven to ten days.

Rubella is serious if you catch it in the early stages of pregnancy because it can damage the development of your unborn child.

It is important your children are vaccinated to protect yourself and others, including pregnant women and their babies.

Whilst now rare in the UK, congenital rubella remains one of the main causes of deafblindness in many developing countries. Sense International works with local partners and government bodies to address the causes of deafblindness, supporting interventions such as rubella vaccination, infant screening and early intervention programmes.

Rubella in the UK

The introduction of the MMR vaccine has almost eliminated rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the UK.

However, there have been occasional outbreaks the virus. In 1996 around 4,000 cases were reported in England and Wales. As a result, 12 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome. This is why your child should be vaccinated against it.

Vaccinating your child against rubella

Vaccination is the best protection against rubella.

To be confident you are protected, you should be sure that you have received two MMR immunisations. It is best to check with your GP, even if you've had the MMR vaccine before, as having two more won't do any harm.

Your child will be offered the MMR vaccination at 13 months old and around three years and four months. The more children who are immunised the more likely it is that the disease will disappear completely in the UK.

Although there is no evidence that rubella-containing vaccines can cause abnormalities, if you receive an MMR vaccination, the NHS advises that you avoid becoming pregnant for a month as a precaution.

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