Rubella is an infectious, but mild viral disease characterised by a rash, which starts on the face and spreads along the rest of the body. Also called German measles, in most cases, rubella is relatively harmless with all symptoms disappearing after a week or so and leaving the patient with a life-long immunity.
The disease is caused by the spread of discharge from the nose and throat of an infected person. This discharge carries a load of rubivirus, the viral agent responsible for the infection.
Symptoms may not appear for up to a month, as the virus breeds in the body. The rash is usually the first sign, and the patient may also experience a fever and some joint pain. Within three days, the rash is gone, leading some people to refer to rubella as ‘the three-day measles’.
In some cases, patients experience lingering joint pain as a result of rubella infection.
In pregnant women, however, rubella can cause severe birth defects or miscarriage if contracted in the first trimester.
If a pregnant woman contracts rubella, the virus can infect her foetus. Such an infection is especially dangerous in the first four months of pregnancy, causing damage to the developing organs.
Although any part of the body can be affected, the eyes and ears seem to be especially susceptible to damage from a rubella infection.
Babies born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) vary greatly from one another. Some are only mildly affected while others have significant disabilities.
Some of the problems associated with CRS include sensorineural hearing loss, visual problems such as cataract, inflammation of the retina (retinopathy), nystagmus, small eyes (microphthalmia), and occasionally optic atrophy, corneal haze, and glaucoma. Babies born with CRS may also experience hearing problems, neurological problems, growth problems, and other disabling conditions. In later life some people also experience glaucoma and detached retina.