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Can Rubella Cause Injury and Death?

disease injury death

Can Rubella cause injury and/or death?

Rubella is generally a mild, self-limiting illness and up to 50 percent of infected individuals will have no symptoms. Symptoms that can occur include a rash that begins on the face and spreads towards the feet, a low-grade fever, swollen glands, cough, headache, and swelling and redness to the white of the eyes.1

Up to 70 percent of adult women with rubella infection may develop arthritis or arthralgia, which may persist for up to a month. These symptoms usually occur at the same time or shortly after the rash appears and rarely occurs in children or men.2

One in approximately 3,000 cases of rubella may result in blood disorders that include cerebral, intrarenal, and gastrointestinal hemorrhage as well as thrombocytopenia purpura, a blood clotting disorder. This complication is more frequently seen in children. Encephalitis (brain inflammation) is another rare but serious complication of rubella that occurs in approximately one out of every 6,000 cases and affects adult females at higher rates than children or males. Other rare but serious complications of rubella include orchitis (swelling of the testes) and neuritis.3

While rubella is usually not a serious infection, a woman infected with rubella during the first three months of pregnancy has a greater chance of miscarriage and of giving birth to a baby with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) and birth defects. Infants born with CRS can suffer from deafness, blindness, heart defects, developmental delay, small head size and other serious health problems.4 

In early adolescence, children with CRS can also develop progressive rubella panencephalitis. Symptoms of this rare disorder include seizures, mental deterioration, and muscular issues like ataxia, and progressive spasticity.5

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Rubella and the Rubella vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs and Symptoms. In: Rubella (German Measles, Three-Day Measles). Dec. 31, 2020.

2 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complications. In: Rubella (German Measles, Three-Day Measles). Dec. 31, 2020.

3 Communication and Education Branch, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Rubella. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2015; p. 326. Updated December 2020. Accessed April 3, 2021.

4 Lambert N, Strebel P, Orenstein W, et al. Rubella. Lancet Jan. 2015; 385(9984): 2297–2307.

5 Tesini BL. Progressive Rubella Panencephalitis. In: Medical Topics - Merck Manual Professional Version. Merck Aug. 2019.

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