Merck Manual

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Rubella in Newborns

(Congenital Rubella)


Brenda L. Tesini

, MD, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022
  • Rubella is caused by a virus.

  • The fetus or newborn may have symptoms depending on when during the pregnancy infection occurred.

  • Blood tests and tests of other samples can be done to detect the virus in the fetus, newborn, or mother.

  • Vaccination of the mother before becoming pregnant can prevent the infection in the fetus.

  • There is no specific treatment for the infection.

Symptoms of Rubella in Newborns

The most common symptoms of congenital rubella syndrome in newborns include

Diagnosis of Rubella in Newborns

  • Tests to measure antibody levels in the mother's blood

  • Tests of the amniotic fluid or blood in the fetus

  • Tests to measure antibody levels and to look for the virus in the newborn

Pregnant women are routinely screened with a blood test early in pregnancy to confirm they are immune to rubella. The test is repeated in women who do not have antibodies to rubella virus and who develop symptoms of rubella Symptoms Rubella is a contagious viral infection that typically causes in children mild symptoms, such as joint pain and a rash. Rubella can cause death of a fetus or severe birth defects if the mother... read more Symptoms .

Newborns suspected of having congenital rubella syndrome should have blood tests to measure antibody levels, and specimens may be taken and tested to look for the virus.

Other tests in the newborn may include a spinal tap Spinal Tap Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Imaging tests commonly used to diagnose nervous system (neurologic) disorders... read more Spinal Tap and x-rays of the bones to look for abnormalities caused by congenital rubella syndrome. Newborns should also be given thorough eye and heart examinations.

Prevention of Rubella in Newborns

Pregnant women who are not immune to rubella should avoid anyone who has rubella and then be given the vaccine immediately after giving birth so that they will be immune during any future pregnancies. Women cannot be vaccinated during pregnancy because the vaccine contains living virus that might infect the fetus. Because of this risk, all women who receive the rubella vaccine should make sure they do not become pregnant for at least 28 days after vaccination.

If an expectant mother who has not been immunized comes into close contact with an infected person early in pregnancy, she may be given an injection of immune globulin to try to help prevent infection.

Treatment of Rubella in Newborns

  • Support for affected children

No specific treatment is available.

Support and care for a newborn who has congenital rubella syndrome vary depending on the extent of the newborn's problems. Children who have multiple complications require early treatment from a team of specialists.

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