High Vaccination Rates Reduces the Spread of Rubella; No Longer Considered a Major Public Health Threat

For Immediate Release

Date: March 31, 2005

Contact: Communication Office

BURLINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced a milestone in public health – rubella, also known as German measles, is no longer considered a major public health threat in the United States. High vaccination rates for children in Vermont and across the United States are responsible for eliminating this disease.

In Vermont, 95 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months old receive the rubella vaccine. It is given to children most often in combination with vaccine for measles and mumps, known as the MMR vaccine. Nationally, about 93 percent of children aged 2 and younger receive the rubella vaccine, according to the National Immunization Survey.

“We have made tremendous progress in reducing the impact of rubella in children and pregnant women. However, vaccination efforts need to continue to keep this disease in check,” said Dr. Cort Lohff, state epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health.

The last confirmed cases of rubella in Vermont were in 1996, when an 18-year-old and a 25-year-old were reported to have rubella. One of those cases was contracted outside of the state. Since 1980, a total of 12 cases of rubella have been reported in Vermont.

Dr. Lohff warns that “the low rate of rubella infection has not eliminated the disease in other countries. Rubella is still being brought into the United States by worldwide travelers, and we border countries where the disease is still active.”

Rubella is a virus that can infect children and adults, but is particularly harmful to the fetuses of pregnant women. An epidemic of rubella in 1964 and 1965 caused an estimated 12.5 million cases of rubella in the United States, and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which led to thousands of fetal and newborn deaths, and babies born deaf, blind, or mentally retarded.

Following the licensing of a rubella vaccine in 1969, and development of a national vaccination program to prevent rubella infection during pregnancy, infection rates fell rapidly. By 1983, fewer than 1,000 cases were reported nationally each year. By 2004, there were only nine rubella cases reported in the United States.

Rubella vaccine is recommended for all children, and for adolescents and adults that have not been vaccinated during childhood. It is especially important for all women considering pregnancy to verify that they have been vaccinated, or to be vaccinated before becoming pregnant.