Pregnancy is the time when a woman's body is particularly susceptible to viruses and infections. And while some viruses pose little to no danger to the expectant mother and her child, others, like rubella, can bring discomfort to the mother and, more importantly, have a negative impact on the development of the fetus. When pregnant women undergo prenatal testing during their pregnancy, they are often recommended to test if they are immune to rubella. Rubella testing helps to evaluate the risks of getting the virus or if the mother-to-be is already immune to this virus.
While rubella is not a serious disease itself, it can seriously affect the development of the fetus. Let’s have a closer look at what rubella is, the signs and symptoms that indicate virus infection, complications rubella can cause during pregnancy, as well as treatment pregnant women can undergo.
The spread of the rubella virus
Rubella (also called German measles) is an airborne infection mostly spread via cough and sneezes from the infected person. It can also spread through kissing, handshaking, food sharing and contaminated objects. People are generally immune to future infections after they recover from the virus.
Signs and symptoms of rubella
Rubella usually starts with a low-grade fever and a sore throat followed by a rash spreading from the face to the entire body. Some people experience very mild symptoms of rubella or do not experience any symptoms at all. However, they can still be the carriers of the virus. According to the CDC, rubella was declared eliminated in 2004. However, the risks of getting infected still exist as unvaccinated people can contract the virus from infected individuals. CDC recommends that women get vaccinated against rubella well before getting pregnant as contracting rubella during pregnancy can have negative impacts more on the fetus than the pregnant mother.
Complications of rubella
Although the treatment of rubella is fairly simple and the virus generally does not pose a serious danger to the mother, it can negatively affect the baby growing inside the womb of the mother. Complications from rubella include:
- Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). CRS is a condition that develops in the fetus whose mother is infected with the virus. The virus in the pregnant woman's body can cause severe birth defects in the baby such as deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, liver and spleen damage and others.
- Preterm birth
It is recommended to get vaccinated against rubella before getting pregnant. It is also recommended to delay getting pregnant for at least 4 weeks after getting a rubella shot. Vaccination during pregnancy is not recommended.
Screening for rubella before pregnancy
Because rubella can negatively affect the development of the child in the womb, women planning to get pregnant are recommended to get a screening for rubella antibodies. It involves a blood test which screens for the presence of IgG antibodies against rubella. If the test result is positive it means the woman already has rubella antibodies and no vaccination is needed. If the result comes back negative it indicates that the woman is at risk of getting infected and therefore vaccination is recommended.
Chances of passing rubella to the developing fetus
Chances of passing rubella to your baby while pregnant oscillate between 25 to 85%. Chances are the highest during the first trimester of pregnancy (85%), 50% when a woman is in her second trimester, and 25% during the third trimester.
If you plan on having babies, your doctor will recommend you to take a prenatal test to check if you are immune to rubella as well as other viruses. If the test result shows no immunity against rubella, your doctor may recommend you to get a rubella shot before getting pregnant. If you are already pregnant and not immune to rubella, this is what you can do to protect yourself and your baby:
- Stay away from those who may be infected with the virus
- Speak to your doctor immediately after having been in contact with someone who may have rubella
If at any time during or before the pregnancy the blood test detects rubella antibodies, the chances of being reinfected are generally low.
Treatment against rubella
The symptoms of rubella are generally mild and there is no specific treatment for rubella. Drinking a lot of fluids and staying in bed are recommended during rubella. Pregnant women are usually prescribed acetaminophen to relieve rubella symptoms. To treat more serious symptoms, a blood transfusion or steroids may be prescribed.
Overall, rubella does not pose a serious danger to pregnant women. However, the danger lies in the negative consequences the virus can have on the developing baby. Therefore, testing for rubella before pregnancy as well as getting a rubella shot before planning to have babies is the most effective solution against rubella.
Dhruv Mehta is a Digital Marketing Professional who works as a brand consultant and provides solutions in the digital era. In his free time, he loves to write about healthcare, finance & home decor. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him via LinkedIn.