FACTS: A childhood encounter with “little red” (or “rubella” in Latin) was historically considered a rite of passage. Usually symptoms were limited to little red rashes on the face, arms, and torso, often accompanied by joint pains, headaches and fevers, generally lasting no more than three days. In fact, rubella is sometimes referred to as the “three day measles” though this is a colloquialism: true measles is actually caused by Rubeola, which is a completely different virus. (Rubella is also sometimes called “German measles” because the virus was first identified by German doctors in the 1880s.)
Unfortunately, while rubella normally poses only minor risks to healthy individuals, it can be very dangerous to unborn children infected in the womb. If rubella is contracted in the first 20 weeks of life, a rash of devastating consequences can occur including heart disorders, mental retardation, deafness, blindness – and even death.
However, the good news is that since 1969 a vaccine has been available which can provide protection against little red rubella. While children who get the vaccine may already be out of the woods with respect to the most dangerous phase of rubella infection, the protection conferred by the vaccine still spares them the unpleasant encounter – and of course, as community-wide infections are reduced, exposure to the virus in general is naturally more limited.
But most importantly, because the vaccine generally provides long-term immunity against infection, unborn children yet-to-be-conceived are protected as well.
All of which gives the story of little red rubella a very happy ending.
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