In our third and final Question and Answer session with Professor David Salisbury, the Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health, we look at MMR and rubella.
What is rubella?
Rubella is a highly contagious disease. It is easily spread from person to person by close contact or by droplets in the air. Children who catch rubella may experience a mild rash and a sore throat and adults (particularly pregnant women and their unborn babies) may be vulnerable to much more serious consequences.
Women who contract the virus usually do so through contact with their own children or children of their friends who have not been vaccinated against rubella.
I have heard that you should be wary of rubella during pregnancy, why is this the case?
The symptoms of rubella can appear to be mild but the disease becomes a much more serious matter if it is caught during pregnancy, when it can cause miscarriages and Congential Rubella Syndrome (CRS) in the unborn baby. CRS can potentially damage the sight, hearing, heart and brain of an unborn child. Maternal rubella caught in the first trimester causes this kind of damage in 90 per cent of cases.
I’m pregnant and I’m not sure if I’ve had the vaccine. What shall I do?
You will be offered a blood test early on in your pregnancy to assess whether or not you have the rubella antibodies. If you are not immune to rubella, you must keep away from anyone who has rubella, particularly during your first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
If you come into contact with someone with rubella, you should see your GP immediately. They will be able to diagnose rubella and may offer you a test to see if your baby has been affected.
If your baby has been affected by rubella, you will be encouraged to have some counselling and talk to your consultant, GP, nurse or midwife.
How can the MMR jab help prevent rubella?
It is recommended that all children have the MMR vaccine around 13 months of age and again before starting school. The reason rubella is included in the childhood immunisation programme is to prevent children becoming infection and to stop them passing the rubella virus to their pregnant mothers or the pregnant mothers of friends.
It is also important to immunise women of childbearing age who have either not been immunised with a rubella-containing vaccine or those who do not have protective antibodies to rubella which is determined through pre-conception screening or antenatal screening.