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January 7, 2003

Born with rubella

From: Clinnix, Great Britain - 07 Jan 2003

Not all cases may be diagnosed

The reported number of babies born with congenital rubella is low but not all cases may be identified, according to the latest results from the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU).

Although rubella (German measles) is a fairly mild illness in children and adults, it can cause serious damage to the unborn child if a mother contracts it during pregnancy, and it is included in the childhood vaccination programme for this reason.

Cases of diagnosed congenital rubella are now rare; between 1990 and 2000 there were 53 confirmed cases and 75 pregnancies terminated for rubella or contact with rubella. In about a quarter of these cases the mothers acquired the infection abroad, and in another third the mothers had been in the UK for a relatively short time, although they acquired the infection in this country.

The effects of congenital rubella are variable, depending on the time in pregnancy at which infection occurs, but it can result in deafness, cataracts, heart defects, and mental retardation. The authors of this study suggested that children who suffer only hearing loss as a result of rubella infection in the womb may not be diagnosed, meaning that the numbers may actually be higher than reported.

They commented that because of anxieties about its safety, uptake of the MMR vaccine in 2001 fell below the levels required to stop rubella circulating in the UK as it once did, and as it still does in many parts of the world.

REF: British Paediatric Surveillance Unit 16th Annual Report for 2001-2002

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