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Congenital rubella syndrome can occur in babies whose mothers are exposed to the rubella virus during pregnancy. The greatest risk appears to be in the first three to six weeks, but it can occur at any time. Common problems that occur as a result of this syndrome include deafness, cataracts, and heart defects.

What Is Congenital Rubella Syndrome?

For most people who develop rubella, the illness is usually mild and fades after several days. However, for pregnant women who develop rubella, the consequences can be serious. This is because rubella is able to spread through the blood to the fetus, where it can cause a condition called congenital rubella syndrome.
This syndrome occurs in at least 20 percent of women who develop rubella during the first trimester of pregnancy and can result in serious birth defects.

Congenital Rubella Syndrome and Pregnancy

The greatest risk for congenital rubella syndrome is when a rubella virus infection occurs during the first three to six weeks after conception. However, there are documented cases of congenital rubella syndrome happening throughout pregnancy.
Even if a woman who develops rubella has no rubella symptoms, her baby can still develop serious congenital rubella syndrome symptoms. Therefore, it is important to determine the rubella immunity status for all women, either before conception or very early in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Besides congenital rubella syndrome, consequences of a rubella infection during pregnancy include abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths.

What Kind of Impact Can This Condition Have?

The impact of congenital rubella syndrome varies for each fetus. Problems that can occur because of congenital rubella syndrome include:
  • Deafness
  • Cataracts
  • Heart defects (patent ductus arteriosus, interventricular septal defect, pulmonic stenosis)
  • Mental retardation
  • Liver and spleen damage
  • Pneumonia.
Later complications of congenital rubella syndrome can include development of diabetes mellitus and progressive subacute panencephalitis.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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