Tag: German measles

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

While the idea of chickenpox and measles parties now seems ridiculous to most people, in the pre-vaccine era, it might not have been so strange. Since getting these diseases was inevitable, it might make some sense to try and control when your kids got sick. Did did pediatricians actually encourage parents to have measles parties?

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

Some folks think they have evidence that they did!

This is not evidence for measles parties...
This is not evidence for measles parties…

Wait, did they really have measles?

As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.
As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.

Not exactly…

These kids had German measles – better known as rubella. Of course, that is not the same thing as measles or rubeola.

Measles vs Rubella

Why do we worry about rubella? Unlike measles, it’s not because it can make kids very sick, but rather because if a pregnant woman gets rubella, then it can be devastating for their baby.

The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.
The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.

That’s why some folks tried to get rubella when they were kids, well before they reached the age when they could become pregnant.

How did that strategy work out?

Many articles advocating for rubella parties (German measles) appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of course, those rubella parties didn’t prevent the rubella epidemics that came in 1964-65 and caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome.”

In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.
In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.

It was the rubella vaccine that was developed in 1969 that helped control and eventually eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the United States. And eliminated all of the risks of the measles parties that some folks used to have.

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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.

More on Japan’s Rubella Outbreak