Health officials are investigating a case of rubella that's turned up in Austin. Austin Public Health says it's the first case of the disease reported in the city since 1999, and the second case of a vaccine-preventable disease in the Austin area in the past month. There are usually fewer than ten cases of rubella reported in the U.S. every year, and most of them involve international travel. The disease is most dangerous to children, pregnant women, and the unborn.
Rubella is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It is also called “German measles,” but it is caused by a different virus than measles. Rubella was eliminated from the United States in 2004. Rubella elimination is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. Rubella is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the United States. However, rubella remains a problem in other parts of the world. It can still be brought into the U.S. by people who get infected in other countries.
Before the rubella vaccination program started in 1969, rubella was a common and widespread infection in the United States. During the last major rubella epidemic in the United States from 1964 to 1965, an estimated 12.5 million people got rubella, 11,000 pregnant women lost their babies, 2,100 newborns died, and 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Once the vaccine became widely used, the number of people infected with rubella in the United States dropped dramatically.
Today, less than 10 people in the United States are reported as having rubella each year. Since 2012, all rubella cases had evidence that they were infected when they were living or traveling outside the United States. To maintain rubella elimination, it is important that children and women of childbearing age are vaccinated against rubella.