Japan’s Rubella Outbreak Should Be a Warning About What Could Happen Here

Do you remember when we used to have rubella outbreaks in the United States?

There is a level 2 travel alert for Japan because of outbreaks of rubella.

Yeah, me neither, but in the rubella epidemics of the 1960s, rubella caused 2,100 neonatal deaths and 20,000 infants to be born with congenital rubella syndrome.

Japan’s Rubella Outbreak

Thanks to the rubella vaccine, the ‘R’ in the MMR, we rarely hear about rubella anymore.

Tragically, like measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, rubella is coming back.

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There are still relatively few cases, but most of us would like to keep it that way.

The US had a big spike in rubella cases in the last 1980s.

We remember that with the return of measles in the late 1980s, rubella came back right along with it, causing 13 deaths and 77 cases of congenital rubella syndrome!

And that’s what is happening in many countries right now.

In Japan, for example, in addition to a rise in measles cases this year, they are seeing big outbreaks of rubella, with weekly totals exceeding 100 cases! These are numbers that are close to what they saw during outbreaks in 2013, a year that ended with 14,344 cases of rubella and 32 cases of congenital rubella syndrome.

Japan is on track to have a big rubella year.
Japan is on track to have a big rubella year.

And they are already reporting at least one case of congenital rubella syndrome, a 4 week old, which is not surprising, considering that they had nearly 3,000 cases of rubella last year.

A newspaper article in 1965 warned about the perils of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
A newspaper article in 1965 warned about the perils of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

Is that what we want to happen here too? Are folks looking forward to having to worry about babies being born with congenital rubella syndrome, a vaccine-preventable disease?

A vaccine-preventable disease that was declared eliminated in the United States in 2004.

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