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In adults and children, rubella is usually a mild disease with infrequent complications. For pregnant women, the disease can cause serious birth defects (known as congenital rubella syndrome), including:
- Heart defects
- Mental retardation
- Liver and spleen damage.
There is at least a 20 percent chance of damage to the fetus if a woman is infected with rubella early in her pregnancy.
Since 1969, a vaccine has been available for the prevention of rubella. The vaccine is contained within the MMR or MR vaccine, or it is given as an individual vaccine.
The last major epidemic of rubella in the United States occurred in 1964 and 1965, when millions of cases led to 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome. This epidemic cost the country an estimated $1.5 billion. The vaccine was first licensed in the United States in 1969.
Following this, the incidence of rubella declined rapidly. Each year from 1992 through 2000, fewer than 500 cases were reported; each year since 2001, fewer than 100 cases have been reported -- a 99 percent decline compared to the pre-vaccine era.