Congenital Rubella Syndrome

  • Definition

    Rubella is an infection caused by a virus. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, she can pass the infection to the unborn baby. This infection can lead to severe birth defects, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The health problems due to the infection are called congenital rubella syndrome.
    Rubella Rash
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  • Causes

    Congenital rubella syndrome is caused by an infection of the rubella virus. The virus first infects the mother. It then passes to the baby during pregnancy. The virus interrupts the development of the baby.
  • Risk Factors

    There is a vaccination for rubella. If the mother has not had this vaccination, the baby has an increased risk of infection.
    The infection is most dangerous to the baby in the first trimester of pregnancy.
    Pregnancy in First Trimester
    9th week fetus
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  • Symptoms

    Symptoms can vary depending on the timing of the infection. Some problems caused by congenital rubella include:
    • Slowing of fetal growth
    • Small head circumference
    • Hearing loss
    • Dental problems and other bone problems
    • Abnormal smallness of one or both eyes
    • Enlargement of liver and spleen, including liver damage
    • Neurological abnormalities including developmental delay
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Other tests may include:
    • Blood tests—to look for evidence of recent infection with rubella virus
    • Imaging tests—to look for problems in the brain
  • Treatment

    Treatment will depend on the results of the infection. Certain eye and heart defects may be treated with surgery shortly after birth. Early intervention programs may also help babies with hearing loss, vision loss, or intellectual disability. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plans for your child.
  • Prevention

    Rubella vaccination for the mother can prevent congenital rubella syndrome. Screening for immunity may be done at premarital, preconception, or prenatal medical exams.
    Infants with congenital rubella can spread the infection. Anyone taking care of your infant should be vaccinated against rubella.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    American Academy of Family Physicians


    Canadian Paediatric Society

    Health Canada


    Congenital rubella syndrome. DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 30, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.

    McLean H, Redd S, et al. Chapter 15: congenital rubella syndrome. VPD Surveillance Manual. 5th ed. 2012. Available at: Accessed July 22, 2013.

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