German Measles Fades as Birth Defect Threat

The disease is nearly eradicated in the U.S., experts say

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FRIDAY, April 7, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- German measles may no longer be the frightening threat to pregnant American women it once was, experts say.

According to a statement in the April issue of the journal Birth Defects Research Part A, congenital rubella syndrome -- a birth defect caused by German measles (rubella virus) -- has been nearly eradicated in the United States.

Rubella can cause birth defects such as blindness, deafness, and congenital heart disease. A rubella epidemic in the U.S. in the early 1960s resulted in more than 11,000 fetal deaths and the birth of 20,000 infants with congenital rubella syndrome. A more effective vaccine was introduced in the 1970s, and helped eliminate the transmission of rubella from pregnant women to their unborn babies.

But the experts that crafted the new statement believe rubella is no longer an endemic disease in the U.S. and that, "congenital rubella syndrome has been nearly eradicated from the United States."

Fewer than 10 cases of rubella were reported in the U.S. last year, and there have only been four cases of congenital rubella syndrome reported in the past five years. Only one of those cases involved a child whose mother had been born in the U.S.

The statement was endorsed by the Teratology Society, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, the Neurobehavioral Teratology Society, and the Behavioral Toxicology Society.

Maintaining high rubella vaccination rates is crucial to the continued success of the efforts to eliminate rubella, the experts warned.

"Effective strategies, such as continued universal childhood and adolescent immunization, must be secured to extend this success worldwide," the statement concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Immunization Program has more about rubella.

SOURCE: John Wiley & Sons Inc., news release, April 7, 2006

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