Rubella on the rise

Rubella, also known as German measles, is spreading rapidly. It is feared that the contagious disease, which is rampant in the Tokyo and Kansai regions, will become pandemic throughout the country.

The greatest problem is that mothers-to-be infected by the rubella virus may give birth to babies with congenital defects. It is important for women who have a chance of becoming pregnant to get vaccinated, as well as those people who have contact with pregnant women who aren’t vaccinated.

Pregnant women cannot be vaccinated because it could cause congenital defects in their babies.

Usually outbreaks of rubella occur from early spring to early summer. The incubation period is two to three weeks. Major symptoms include a high fever, rashes and the swelling of lymph nodes. The rubella virus is transmitted via aerosol droplets from coughing, sneezing or conversation.

People who are infected by the virus develop immunity, and children who come down with rubella are said to have relatively light symptoms. But sometimes serious complications such as brain inflammation can occur.

If adults are affected by rubella, rashes and high fevers last a long time, and they may develop joint pains.

If a woman in an early stage of pregnancy catches the rubella virus, her baby can also become infected and he or she could develop congenital rubella syndrome, characterized by hearing difficulties, cataracts, heart disease or slow mental or physical development.

According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, there were 2,418 cases of rubella as of March 24, easily topping the five-year annual record of 2,353 cases set in 2012. That figure is 22 times the figure in the same period of 2012.

It is estimated that in an outbreak of rubella in 2004, some 39,000 people were affected by the disease. For the past several weeks, about 300 people have been catching rubella every week. If this trend continues, this year is likely to see rubella pandemic.

This year, about three-fourths of the patients are men. In terms of age brackets, many cases of rubella are seen in men in their 20s to 40s and women in their 20s. It is believed that many of them did not have a chance to receive the vaccination.

The rubella vaccination began being administered in 1976. From 1977 to 1994, a regular vaccination was given to junior high school girl students. Currently a combined rubella and measles vaccination is given to both boys and girls at the age of 1 as well as one year before entering elementary school.

The number of adults who have no immunity to rubella is increasing. It is important that as many people as possible receive the vaccination, especially those who have contact with pregnant woman.

Japan Times APR 10, 2013

“Rubella cases in Japan already exceed 5,000 this year”

Japan Times May 9, 2013