Rubella was initially considered to be a variant of measles
or scarlet fever and was called “third disease”. It was not
until 1814 that it was first described as a separate disease
in the German medical literature, hence the common
name “German measles”. In 1914, Hess postulated a viral
etiology based on his work with monkeys. Hiro and Tosaka
in 1938 confirmed the viral etiology by passing the disease
to children using filtered nasal washings from persons with
Following a widespread epidemic of rubella infection in
1940, Norman Gregg, an Australian ophthalmologist,
reported in 1941 the occurrence of congenital cataracts
among 78 infants born following maternal rubella infection
in early pregnancy. This was the first published recognition
of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Rubella virus was first
isolated in 1962 by Parkman and Weller. The first rubella
vaccines were licensed in 1969.
Rubella virus is classified as a togavirus, genus Rubivirus.
It is most closely related to group A arboviruses, such as
eastern and western equine encephalitis viruses. It is an
enveloped RNA virus, with a single antigenic type that does
not cross-react with other members of the togavirus group.
Rubella virus is relatively unstable and is inactivated by lipid
solvents, trypsin, formalin, ultraviolet light, low pH, heat,
Following respiratory transmission of rubella virus,
replication of the virus is thought to occur in the
nasopharynx and regional lymph nodes. A viremia occurs 5
to 7 days after exposure with spread of the virus throughout
the body. Transplacental infection of the fetus occurs during
viremia. Fetal damage occurs through destruction of cells as
well as mitotic arrest.
The incubation period of rubella is 14 days, with a range
of 12 to 23 days. Symptoms are often mild, and up to 50%
of infections may be subclinical or inapparent. In children,
rash is usually the first manifestation and a prodrome is
rare. In older children and adults, there is often a 1 to 5 day
prodrome with low-grade fever, malaise, lymphadenopathy,
and upper respiratory symptoms preceding the rash. The
rash of rubella is maculopapular and occurs 14 to 17 days
From Latin meaning
Discovered in 18th century
–thought to be variant
First described as
distinct clinical entity in
Congenital rubella syndrome
(CRS) described by Gregg
1962 by Parkman and Weller
One antigenic type
Inactivated by lipid solvents,
trypsin, formalin, ultraviolet
light, low pH, heat, and
Replication in nasopharynx
and regional lymph nodes
Viremia 5 to 7 days after
exposure with spread
Transplacental infection of
fetus during viremia
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, 13th Edition
Incubation period 14 days
(range 12 to 23 days)
Prodrome is rare in children
Prodrome of low-grade fever in
days after exposure
before rash and lasts for
Arthralgia or arthritis (adult
female) – up to 70%
Arthralgia or arthritis
(children) – rare
Encephalitis - 1/6000 cases
Orchitis, neuritis, progressive
panencephalitis – rare
Epidemic Rubella – United States,
12.5 million rubella cases
20,000 CRS cases
Estimated cost more than
after exposure. The rash usually occurs initially on the face
and then progresses from head to foot. It lasts about 3
days and is occasionally pruritic. The rash is fainter than
measles rash and does not coalesce. The rash is often more
prominent after a hot shower or bath. Lymphadenopathy
may begin a week before the rash and last several weeks.
Postauricular, posterior cervical, and suboccipital nodes are
Arthralgia and arthritis occur so frequently in adults that
they are considered by many to be an integral part of
the illness rather than a complication. Other symptoms
of rubella include conjunctivitis, testalgia, or orchitis.
Forschheimer spots may be noted on the soft palate but are
not diagnostic for rubella.
Complications of rubella are not common, but they
generally occur more often in adults than in children.
Arthralgia or arthritis may occur in up to 70% of adult
women who contract rubella, but it is rare in children and
adult males. Fingers, wrists, and knees are often affected.
Joint symptoms tend to occur about the same time or
shortly after appearance of the rash and may last for up to 1
month; chronic arthritis is rare.
Encephalitis occurs in one in 6,000 cases, more frequently
in adults (especially in females) than in children. Mortality
estimates vary from 0 to 50%.
Hemorrhagic manifestations occur in approximately one per
3,000 cases, occurring more often in children than in adults.
These manifestations may be secondary to low platelets and
vascular damage, with thrombocytopenic purpura being the
most common manifestation. Gastrointestinal, cerebral, or
intrarenal hemorrhage may occur. Effects may last from days
to months, and most patients recover.
Additional complications include orchitis, neuritis, and a
rare late syndrome of progressive panencephalitis.
Congenital Rubella Syndrome
Prevention of CRS is the main objective of rubella
vaccination programs in the United States.
A rubella epidemic in the United States in 1964–1965
resulted in 12.5 million cases of rubella infection and
about 20,000 newborns with CRS. The estimated cost of
the epidemic was $840 million. This does not include the
emotional toll on the families involved.
The virus may affect all organs and cause a variety of
congenital defects. Infection may lead to fetal death,
spontaneous abortion, or preterm delivery. The severity of
the effects of rubella virus on the fetus depends largely on
the time of gestation at which infection occurs. As many as
85% of infants infected in the first trimester of pregnancy
will be found to be affected if followed after birth. While
fetal infection may occur throughout pregnancy, defects are
rare when infection occurs after the 20th week of gestation.
The overall risk of defects during the third trimester is
probably no greater than that associated with uncompli
Congenital infection with rubella virus can affect virtually
all organ systems. Deafness is the most common and often
the sole manifestation of congenital rubella infection,
especially after the fourth month of gestation. Eye defects,
including cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy, and microph
thalmia may occur. Cardiac defects such as patent ductus
arteriosus, ventricular septal defect, pulmonic stenosis, and
coarctation of the aorta are possible. Neurologic abnormali
ties, including microcephaly and mental retardation, and
other abnormalities, including bone lesions, splenomegaly,
hepatitis, and thrombocytopenia with purpura may occur.
Manifestations of CRS may be delayed from 2 to 4 years.
Diabetes mellitus appearing in later childhood occurs
frequently in children with CRS. In addition, progressive
encephalopathy resembling subacute sclerosing panencepha
litis has been observed in some older children with CRS.
Children with CRS have a higher than expected incidence of
Infants with CRS may have low titers by hemagglutination
inhibition (HI) but may have high titers of neutralizing
antibody that may persist for years. Reinfection may occur.
Impaired cell-mediated immunity has been demonstrated in
some children with CRS.
Many rash illnesses can mimic rubella infection, and as
many as 50% of rubella infections may be subclinical. The
only reliable evidence of acute rubella infection is a positive
viral culture for rubella or detection of rubella virus by
polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the presence of rubella-
specific IgM antibody, or demonstration of a significant rise
in IgG antibody from paired acute- and convalescent-phase
Rubella virus can be isolated from nasal, blood, throat,
CRS patients. Virus may be isolated from the pharynx 1 week
Infection may affect all organs
May lead to fetal death or
Severity of damage to fetus
depends on gestational age
Up to 85% of infants affected
if infected during first trimester
Liver and spleen damage
Rubella Laboratory Diagnosis
Isolation of rubella virus
from clinical specimen (e.g.,
Serologic tests available vary
Positive serologic test for
rubella IgM antibody
Significant rise in rubella
IgG by any standard
serologic assay (e.g., enzyme
7 days before 5 to 7 days
cases may transmit)
Infants with CRS may shed
virus for up to a year
before and until 2 weeks after rash onset. Although isolation
of the virus is diagnostic of rubella infection, viral cultures
are labor intensive, and therefore not done in many labora
tories; they are generally not used for routine diagnosis of
rubella. Viral isolation is an extremely valuable epidemiologic
tool and should be attempted for all suspected cases of
rubella or CRS. Information about rubella virus isolation can
be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/rubella/lab/
Serology is the most common method of confirming the
diagnosis of rubella. Acute rubella infection can be serologi
cally confirmed by a significant rise in rubella antibody titer
in acute- and convalescent-phase serum specimens or by the
presence of serum rubella IgM. Serum should be collected
as early as possible (within 7–10 days) after onset of illness,
and again 14–21 days (minimum of 7) days later.
False-positive serum rubella IgM tests have occurred
in persons with parvovirus infections, with a positive
heterophile test for infectious mononucleosis, or with a
positive rheumatoid factor.
The serologic tests available for laboratory confirmation of
rubella infections vary among laboratories. The state health
department can provide guidance on available laboratory
services and preferred tests.
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is sensitive,
widely available, and relatively easy to perform. It can
also be modified to measure IgM antibodies. Most of the
diagnostic testing done for rubella antibodies uses some
variation of ELISA.
Rubella occurs worldwide. For information about the clinical
case definition, clinical classification and epidemiologic
classification of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome see
Rubella is a human disease. There is no known animal
reservoir. Although infants with CRS may shed rubella virus
for an extended period, a true carrier state has not been
Rubella is spread from person to person via droplets shed
from the respiratory secretions of infected persons. There is
no evidence of insect transmission.
Rubella may be transmitted by persons with subclinical
or asymptomatic cases (up to 50% of all rubella virus
In temperate areas, incidence is usually highest in late winter
and early spring.
Rubella is only moderately contagious. The disease is most
contagious when the rash first appears, but virus may be
shed from 7 days before to 5–7 days or more after rash
Infants with CRS shed large quantities of virus from body
rubella to persons caring for them who are susceptible to
Secular Trends in the United States
Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome became nationally
notifiable diseases in 1966. The largest annual total of cases
of rubella in the United States was in 1969, when 57,686
cases were reported (58 cases per 100,000 population).
Following vaccine licensure in 1969, rubella incidence
declined rapidly. By 1983, fewer than 1,000 cases per year
were reported (less than 0.5 cases per 100,000 population).
A moderate resurgence of rubella occurred in 1990–1991,
primarily due to outbreaks in California (1990) and among
the Amish in Pennsylvania (1991). In 2003, a record low
annual total of seven cases was reported. In October 2004,
CDC convened an independent expert panel to review
available rubella and CRS data. After a careful review,
the panel unanimously agreed that rubella was no longer
endemic in the United States. The number of reported cases
of rubella in the United States remains low with a median of
11 cases annually in 2005-2011.
Until recently, there was no predominant age group for
rubella cases. During 1982 through 1992, approximately
30% of cases occurred in children younger than 5 years, 30%
occurred in children 5 through 14 years, and 30% occurred
in persons 15 through 39 years. Adults 40 years of age and
older typically accounted for less than 10% of cases. Since
2004 when endemic rubella was declared eliminated in the
U.S., persons 20-49 years of age have accounted for 60
percent of the cases (median age 32 years).
Most reported rubella in the United States in the mid-1990s
has occurred among Hispanic young adults who were born
in areas where rubella vaccine is routinely not given. In 1998,
Most reported rubella in the
U.S. in the mid-1990s has
occurred among foreign-born
Hispanic young adults
Indigenous transmission of
rubella determined to have
ended in 2004
In 2010 PAHO announced
region of the Americas
achieved rubella and CRS
Latin America nations and Mexico began major rubella
control efforts, which resulted in a marked decrease in the
number of rubella cases.
CRS surveillance is maintained through the National
Congenital Rubella Registry, which is managed by the
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The largest annual total of reported CRS cases to the
registry was in 1970 (67 cases). An average of 2-3 CRS
cases were reported annually during 1998-2012. Although
reported rubella activity has consistently and significantly
decreased since vaccine has been used in the United States,
the incidence of CRS has paralleled the decrease in rubella
cases only since the mid-1970s. The decline in CRS since
the mid-1970s was due to an increased effort to vaccinate
susceptible adolescents and young adults, especially women.
Rubella outbreaks are almost always followed by an increase
Rubella outbreaks in California and Pennsylvania in
1990–1991 resulted in 25 cases of CRS in 1990 and
33 cases in 1991. From 2004-2012, a total of 6 CRS
cases were reported in the U.S., 5 of which where the
mother was likely infected while in Asia or Africa. In 2010,
the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced
that the Region of the Americas had achieved the rubella
and CRS elimination goals set in 2003 based on surveillance
data. Although regional documentation of elimination is
ongoing, an expert panel unanimously agreed in December
2011 that rubella elimination has been maintained in the
Three rubella vaccines were licensed in the United States in
1969: HPV-77:DE-5 Meruvax (duck embryo), HPV-77:DK-12
Rubelogen (dog kidney), and GMK-3:RK53 Cendevax (rabbit
kidney) strains. HPV-77:DK-12 was later removed from the
market because there was a higher rate of joint complaints
following vaccination with this strain. In 1979, the RA 27/3
(human diploid fibroblast) strain (Meruvax-II, Merck) was
licensed and all other strains were discontinued.
Still in use
The RA 27/3 rubella vaccine is a live attenuated virus. It was
first isolated in 1965 at the Wistar Institute from a rubella-
infected aborted fetus. The virus was attenuated by 25–30
passages in tissue culture, using human diploid fibroblasts.
It does not contain duck, chicken or egg protein.
Vaccine virus is not communicable except in the setting of
breastfeeding (see Contraindications Section), even though
virus may be cultured from the nasopharynx of vaccinees.
Rubella vaccine is available combined with measles and
mumps vaccines as MMR, or combined with mumps,
measles, and varicella vaccine as MMRV (ProQuad). The
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
recommends that combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine
(MMR) be used when any of the individual components is
indicated. Single-antigen rubella vaccine is not available in
MMR and MMRV are supplied as a lyophylized (freeze-dried)
powder and are reconstituted with sterile, preservative-free
water. The vaccines contains a small amount of human
albumin, neomycin, sorbitol, and gelatin.
Immunogenicity and Vaccine Efficacy
RA 27/3 rubella vaccine is safe and more immunogenic
than rubella vaccines used previously. In clinical trials, 95%
or more of vaccinees aged 12 months and older developed
serologic evidence of rubella immunity after a single dose.
More than 90% of vaccinated persons have protection
against both clinical rubella and viremia for at least 15 years.
Follow-up studies indicate that one dose of vaccine confers
long-term, probably lifelong, protection. Seroconversion
rates are similar for single-antigen rubella vaccine, MMR,
Several reports indicate that viremic reinfection following
exposure may occur in vaccinated persons who have low
levels of detectable antibody. The frequency and conse
quences of this phenomenon are unknown, but it is believed
to be uncommon. Rarely, clinical reinfection and fetal
infection have been reported among women with vaccine-
induced immunity. Rare cases of CRS have occurred among
infants born to women who had documented serologic
evidence of rubella immunity before they became pregnant.
At least one dose of rubella-containing vaccine, as
combination MMR (or MMRV) vaccine, is routinely
recommended for all children 12 months of age or older.
MMRV is approved for ages 12 months through 12
live virus (RA 27/3 strain)
95% or more
Duration of Immunity
at least 1 dose
Should be administered with
measles and mumps as MMR
or with measles, mumps and
varicella as MMRV
All infants 12 months of age
Susceptible adolescents and
adults without documented
evidence of rubella immunity
Emphasis on nonpregnant
women of childbearing
age, particularly those born
outside the U.S.
Emphasis on males and
females in college, places
of employment, and health
years (that is, until the 13th birthday) and should not be
adminstered to persons 13 years or older. All persons born
during or after 1957 should have documentation of at least
one dose of MMR. The first dose of MMR should be given
on or after the first birthday. Any dose of rubella-containing
vaccine given before 12 months of age should not be
counted as part of the series. Children vaccinated with
rubella-containing vaccine before 12 months of age should
be revaccinated when the child is at least 12 months of age.
A second dose of MMR is recommended to produce
immunity to measles and mumps in those who failed to
respond to the first dose. Data indicate that almost all
persons who do not respond to the measles component of
the first dose will respond to a second dose of MMR. Few
data on the immune response to the rubella and mumps
components of a second dose of MMR are available.
However, most persons who do not respond to the rubella
or mumps component of the first MMR dose would be
expected to respond to the second dose. The second dose is
not generally considered a booster dose because a primary
immune response to the first dose provides long-term
protection. Although a second dose of vaccine may increase
antibody titers in some persons who responded to the first
dose, available data indicate that these increased antibody
titers are not sustained. The combined MMR vaccine is
recommended for both doses to ensure immunity to all
The second dose of MMR vaccine should routinely be given
at age 4 through 6 years, before a child enters kindergarten
or first grade. The recommended health visit at age 11
or 12 years can serve as a catch-up opportunity to verify
vaccination status and administer MMR vaccine to those
children who have not yet received two doses of MMR
(with the first dose administered no earlier than the first
birthday). The second dose of MMR may be administered
as soon as 1 month (i.e., minimum of 28 days) after the
first dose. The minimum interval between doses of MMRV is
All older children not previously immunized should receive
at least one dose of rubella vaccine as MMR or MMRV if 12
years of age or younger.
Adults born in 1957 or later who do not have a medical
contraindication should receive at least one dose of MMR
vaccine unless they have documentation of vaccination
with at least one dose of measles-, mumps-, and rubella-
containing vaccine or other acceptable evidence of immunity
to these three diseases. Some adults at high risk of measles
and mumps exposure may require a second dose. This
second dose should be administered as combined MMR
be made to identify and vaccinate susceptible adolescents
and adults, particularly women of childbearing age who
are not pregnant. Particular emphasis should be placed on
vaccinating both males and females in colleges, places of
employment, and healthcare settings.
Only doses of vaccine with written documentation of the
date of receipt should be accepted as valid. Self-reported
doses or a parental report of vaccination is not considered
adequate documentation. A healthcare provider should
not provide an immunization record for a patient unless
that healthcare provider has administered the vaccine or
has seen a record that documents vaccination. Persons
who lack adequate documentation of vaccination or other
acceptable evidence of immunity should be vaccinated.
Vaccination status and receipt of all vaccinations should be
documented in the patient’s permanent medical record and
in a vaccination record held by the individual.
For the first dose of measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella
vaccines at age 12 through 47 months, either MMR vaccine
and varicella vaccine or MMRV vaccine may be used.
Providers who are considering administering MMRV vaccine
should discuss the benefits and risks of both vaccination
options with the parents or caregivers. Unless the parent or
caregiver expresses a preference for MMRV vaccine, CDC
recommends that MMR vaccine and varicella vaccine should
be administered for the first dose in this age group. For
the second dose of measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella
vaccines at any age (15 months through 12 years) and for
the first dose at 48 months of age or older, use of MMRV
vaccine generally is preferred over separate injections of
its equivalent component vaccines (i.e., MMR vaccine and
Persons generally can be considered immune to rubella if
they have documentation of vaccination with at least one
dose of MMR (or MMRV) or other live rubella-containing
vaccine administered on or after their first birthday, have
serologic evidence of rubella immunity, or were born before
1957. Persons who have an “equivocal” serologic test result
should be considered rubella-susceptible. Although only one
dose of rubella-containing vaccine is required as acceptable
evidence of immunity to rubella, children should receive two
doses of MMR vaccine according to the routine childhood
Birth before 1957 provides only presumptive evidence of
rubella immunity; it does not guarantee that a person is
immune to rubella. Because rubella can occur in some
Documentation of one dose
of rubella-containing vaccine
on or after the first birthday
Birth before 1957 (except
women of childbearing age)
Birth before 1957 is not
acceptable evidence of rubella
immunity for women who
might become pregnant
Only serology or documented
History of anaphylactic
reactions to neomycin
History of severe allergic
reaction to any component of
Moderate or severe
Recent blood product
Personal or family (i.e., sibling
or parent) history of seizures
of any etiology (MMRV only)
unvaccinated persons born before 1957 and because
congenital rubella and congenital rubella syndrome can
occur in the offspring of women infected with rubella during
pregnancy, birth before 1957 is not acceptable evidence of
rubella immunity for women who might become pregnant.
Only a positive serologic test for rubella antibody or docu
mentation of appropriate vaccination should be accepted
for women who may become pregnant.
Healthcare personnel born before 1957 also should not be
presumed to be immune. Medical facilities should consider
recommending at least one dose of MMR vaccine to unvac
cinated healthcare personnel born before 1957 who do
not have laboratory evidence of rubella immunity. Rubella
vaccination or laboratory evidence of rubella immunity
is particularly important for healthcare personnel who
could become pregnant, including those born before 1957.
This recommendation is based on serologic studies which
indicate that among hospital personnel born before 1957,
5% to 9% had no detectable measles antibody.
Clinical diagnosis of rubella is unreliable and should not
be considered in assessing immune status. Because many
rash illnesses may mimic rubella infection and many rubella
infections are unrecognized, the only reliable evidence of
previous rubella infection is the presence of serum rubella
IgG antibody. Laboratories that regularly perform antibody
testing are generally the most reliable because their reagents
and procedures are strictly standardized.
Serologic screening need not be done before vaccinating
for measles and rubella unless the medical facility considers
it cost-effective. Serologic testing is appropriate only if
tracking systems are used to ensure that tested persons who
are identified as susceptible are subsequently vaccinated
in a timely manner. If the return and timely vaccination of
those screened cannot be assured, vaccination should be
done without prior testing. Serologic testing for immunity
to measles and rubella is not necessary for persons
documented to be appropriately vaccinated or who have
other acceptable evidence of immunity.
Neither rubella vaccine nor immune globulin is effective
for postexposure prophylaxis of rubella. Vaccination after
exposure is not harmful and may possibly avert later disease.
Contraindications and Precautions
Contraindications for MMR and MMRV vaccines include
history of anaphylactic reactions to neomycin, history of
severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine,
and immunosuppression. Women known to be pregnant or
attempting to become pregnant should not receive rubella
vaccine. Although there is no evidence that rubella vaccine
virus causes fetal damage, pregnancy should be avoided for
4 weeks (28 days) after rubella or MMR vaccination.
Persons with immunodeficiency or immunosuppression,
resulting from leukemia, lymphoma, generalized malignancy,
immune deficiency disease, or immunosuppressive therapy
should not be vaccinated. However, treatment with
low-dose (less than 2 mg/kg/day), alternate-day, topical, or
aerosolized steroid preparations is not a contraindication
to rubella vaccination. Persons whose immunosuppressive
therapy with steroids has been discontinued for 1 month
(3 months for chemotherapy) may be vaccinated. Rubella
vaccine should be considered for persons with asymptomatic
or mildly symptomatic HIV infection. See Measles chapter
for additional details on vaccination of immunosuppressed
persons, including those with human immunodeficiency
Persons with moderate or severe acute illness should not be
vaccinated until the illness has improved. Minor illness (e.g.,
otitis media, mild upper respiratory infections), concurrent
antibiotic therapy, and exposure or recovery from other
illnesses are not contraindications to rubella vaccination.
Receipt of antibody-containing blood products (e.g.,
immune globulin, whole blood or packed red blood
cells, intravenous immune globulin) may interfere with
seroconversion to rubella vaccine. Vaccine should be given
2 weeks before, or deferred for at least 3 months following
administration of an antibody-containing blood product. If
rubella vaccine is given as combined MMR, a longer delay
may be necessary before vaccination. For more information,
see Chapter 2, General Recommendations on Immunization.
Previous administration of human anti-Rho(D) immune
globulin (RhoGam) does not generally interfere with an
immune response to rubella vaccine and is not a contra
indication to postpartum vaccination. However, women
who have received anti-Rho immune globulin should be
serologically tested 6–8 weeks after vaccination to ensure
that seroconversion has occurred.
A personal or family (i.e., sibling or parent) history
of seizures of any etiology is a precaution for MMRV
vaccination. Studies suggest that children who have a
personal or family history of febrile seizures or family
history of epilepsy are at increased risk for febrile seizures
compared with children without such histories. Children
with a personal or family history of seizures of any etiology
generally should be vaccinated with MMR vaccine and
varicella vaccine (for the first dose) because the risks for
using MMRV vaccine in this group of children generally
outweigh the benefits.
Recurrent joint symptoms
MMR Adverse Reactions
Arthralgia – associated with
Arthritis- associated with
Pain, paresthesia – begins
1-3 weeks after vaccination,
persist for 1 day to three
weeks, and rarely recurs
Rubella Vaccine Arthropathy
Acute arthralgia in about 25%
of vaccinated, susceptible
Acute arthritis-like signs and
symptoms occurs in about
10% of recipients
Rare reports of chronic or
Although vaccine virus may be isolated from the pharynx,
vaccinees do not transmit rubella to others, except
occasionally in the case of the vaccinated breastfeeding
woman. In this situation, the infant may be infected,
presumably through breast milk, and may develop a mild
rash illness, but serious effects have not been reported.
Infants infected through breastfeeding have been shown to
respond normally to rubella vaccination at 12–15 months
of age. Breastfeeding is not a contraindication to rubella
vaccination and does not alter rubella vaccination recom
Rubella vaccine is very safe. Most adverse events reported
following MMR vaccination (such as fever and rash) are
attributable to the measles component. Data from studies in
the United States and experience from other countries using
the RA 27/3 strain rubella vaccine have not supported an
association between the vaccine and chronic arthritis. The
Institute of Medicine found that evidence was inadequate
to accept or reject a causal relationship between MMR
vaccine and chronic arthralgia or arthritis in women. Rarely,
transient peripheral neuritic complaints, such as paresthesias
and pain in the arms and legs, have been reported. One
study among 958 seronegative immunized and 932 sero
negative unimmunized women aged 15–39 years found no
association between rubella vaccination and development of
recurrent joint symptoms, neuropathy, or collagen disease.
The most common complaints following rubella vaccination
are fever, lymphadenopathy, and arthralgia. These reactions
only occur in susceptible persons and are more common in
adults, especially in women.
Joint symptoms, such as arthralgia (joint pain) and arthritis
(joint redness and/or swelling), are associated with the
rubella component of MMR. Arthralgia and transient
arthritis occur more frequently in susceptible adults than
in children and more frequently in susceptible women
than in men. Acute arthralgia or arthritis is rare following
vaccination of children with RA 27/3 vaccine. By contrast,
approximately 25% of susceptible postpubertal females
develop acute arthralgia following RA 27/3 vaccination,
and approximately 10% have been reported to have acute
arthritis-like signs and symptoms.
When acute joint symptoms occur, or when pain or
paresthesias not associated with joints occur, the symptoms
321 women vaccinated
No observed CRS
Maximum theoretical risk of
1.6%, based on confidence
limits (1.2% for all types of
generally begin 1–3 weeks after vaccination, persist for 1
day to 3 weeks, and rarely recur. Adults with acute joint
symptoms following rubella vaccination rarely have had to
disrupt work activities.
The ACIP continues to recommend the vaccination of all
adult women who do not have evidence of rubella immunity.
See the Measles and Varicella chapters for information
about adverse reactions following MMRV vaccine.
Women who are pregnant or who intend to become
pregnant within 4 weeks should not receive rubella vaccine.
ACIP recommends that vaccine providers ask a woman if
she is pregnant or likely to become pregnant in the next
4 weeks. Those who are pregnant or intend to become
pregnant should not be vaccinated. All other women
should be vaccinated after being informed of the theoretical
risks of vaccination during pregnancy and the importance
of not becoming pregnant during the 4 weeks following
vaccination. ACIP does not recommend routine pregnancy
screening of women before rubella vaccination.
If a pregnant woman is inadvertently vaccinated or if
she becomes pregnant within 4 weeks after vaccination,
she should be counseled about the concern for the fetus
(see below), but MMR vaccination during pregnancy
should not ordinarily be a reason to consider termination
of the pregnancy.
When rubella vaccine was licensed, concern existed about
women being inadvertently vaccinated while they were
pregnant or shortly before conception. This concern came
from the known teratogenicity of the wild-virus strain. To
determine whether CRS would occur in infants of such
mothers, CDC maintained a registry from 1971 to 1989 of
women vaccinated during pregnancy. This was called the
Vaccine in Pregnancy (VIP) Registry.
Although subclinical fetal infection has been detected
serologically in approximately 1%–2% of infants born to
susceptible vaccinees, regardless of the vaccine strain,
the data collected by CDC in the VIP Registry showed no
evidence of CRS occurring in offspring of the 321 susceptible
women who received rubella vaccine and who continued
pregnancy to term. The observed risk of vaccine-induced
malformation was 0%, with a maximum theoretical risk of
1.6%, based on 95% confidence limits (1.2% for all types
of rubella vaccine). Since the risk of the vaccine to the
fetus appears to be extremely low, if it exists at all, routine
Vaccination of Women of
Ask if pregnant or likely to
become so in next 4 weeks
Exclude those who say “yes”
explain theoretical risks
counseling for these women is recommended. As of April 30,
1989, CDC discontinued the VIP registry.
The ACIP continues to state that because of the small
theoretical risk to the fetus of a vaccinated woman, pregnant
women should not be vaccinated.
MMR vaccine can be stored either in the freezer or the
refrigerator and should be protected from light at all times.
MMRV vaccine should be stored frozen between -58°F and
+5°F (-50°C to -15°C). When MMR vaccine is stored in the
freezer, the temperature should be the same as that required
for MMRV, between -58°F and +5°F (-50°C to -15°C).
Storing MMR in the freezer with MMRV may help prevent
inadvertent storage of MMRV in the refrigerator.
Manufacturer package inserts contain additional
information and can be found at http://www.fda.gov/
ucm093830.htm. For complete information on best
practices and recommendations please refer to CDC’s
Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit, http://www.cdc.gov/
Elimination of indigenous rubella and CRS can be
maintained by continuing efforts to vaccinate susceptible
adolescents and young adults of childbearing age, particu
larly those born outside the United States. These efforts
should include vaccinating in family planning clinics,
sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics, and as part of
routine gynecologic care; maximizing use of premarital
serology results; emphasizing immunization for college
students; vaccinating women postpartum and postabor
tion; immunizing prison staff and, when possible, prison
inmates, especially women inmates; offering vaccination to
at-risk women through the special supplemental program
for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); and implementing
vaccination programs in the workplace, particularly those
employing persons born outside the United States.
Emphasis should be placed on vaccinating susceptible
hospital personnel, both male and female (e.g., volunteers,
trainees, nurses, physicians.) Ideally, all hospital employees
should be immune. It is important to note that screening
programs alone are not adequate. Vaccination of susceptible
staff must follow.
The editors thank Drs. Greg Wallace, and Zaney Leroy, CDC
for their assistance in updating this chapter.
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