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For the first time since 1999, someone in Travis County has rubella

Friday, January 17, 2020 by Andrew Weber, KUT

Public health officials on Thursday morning confirmed the first case of rubella in Travis County since 1999. The confirmation comes roughly a month after the first diagnosis of measles, which was last seen in the Austin area in 1999, too.

Austin Public Health said in an announcement that the virus, which is less contagious than measles, particularly affects unvaccinated children and pregnant women who haven’t received the full vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Both diseases are covered by the MMR vaccine, an inoculation administered in two doses to children just over a year old and then again when they’re between the ages of 4 and 6. Health officials attribute the reappearance of measles and rubella in Travis County to an increase in vaccination opt-outs in pockets of the Austin area.

Symptoms for rubella include a rash that starts on the face, a low fever, mild pink eye and a cough or runny nose. The virus can live on surfaces and in the air and is spread through saliva and mucus.

Unvaccinated women who contract rubella are at risk of developing congenital rubella syndrome, a condition that could lead to miscarriage or birth defects that include deafness, cataracts and microcephaly.

In a statement Thursday, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority and medical director for APH, said state law requires children who have attended school with a rubella-infected classmate to stay home for at least three weeks after contact.

“Along with the requirement to keep your unvaccinated child home for weeks, there are significant health risks to being exposed to rubella,” he said. “Please, check if you and your family are up-to-date on vaccinations to prevent the comeback of these previously eliminated diseases.”

Diagnoses of rubella are exceedingly rare in the United States, with fewer than 10 cases annually, APH says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared rubella eliminated in 2004.

Austin’s first measles case was diagnosed in late December; health officials said on Jan. 8 that there was no longer any risk associated with that case.

Still, they have said the diagnoses of both rubella and measles for the first time in 20 years highlight the proliferation of vaccination opt-outs in the Austin-Travis County area. Last year, a study from Lancet Infectious Diseases put Travis County on a list of counties with a high risk of having a measles outbreak.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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