Austin Public Health confirms first case of rubella since 1999


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health says they are investigating the first confirmed case of rubella in Travis County since 1999.

The agency says it’s not related to the December case of measles confirmed in Travis County. Coincidentally, the last case of measles in the county before then was in 1999.

Rubella is a virus that’s similar to measles. Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority and medical director for Austin Public Health, said, sometimes it’s called “three day measles” because a rash that can be caused by rubella lasts about three days.

Other symptoms are similar to measles’ symptoms – low-grade fever, headache and cough. With rubella, you can also suffer from swollen lymph nodes.

Dr. Jay Zdunek, Chief Medical Officer at Austin Regional Clinic, said it’s not surprising to see a case of measles and a case of rubella back to back.

“It makes sense that you might see this occur in a pattern like this because measles, mumps and rubella are all given at the same time, in one vaccination,” he explained. “So if you didn’t get vaccinated for measles, you didn’t get vaccinated for rubella, you didn’t get vaccinated for mumps, and so in an environment where you have a group on non-vaccinators like Austin does, it’s not unlikely to have an outbreak of similar diseases related to the same vaccination.”

What we know about the Travis County case

Health officials believe the patient got rubella while traveling overseas. They did not elaborate on the trip details, but said the person flew back to the United States from Thailand.

Officials said they notified people who “are in really close proximity” to the patient, including a school, but since rubella doesn’t spread as easily as measles, they said they haven’t issued a list of every single place this patient visited like they did with the measles’ patient last month.

Escott told KXAN measles’ infection rate is 90 percent, meaning the virus can spread to nine out of 10 people if they’re not vaccinated. He said rubella’s infection rate is about 10 to 30 percent.

Officials added, the rubella virus doesn’t live as long outside the body as the measles virus. Rubella spreads similar to how measles spread — through airborne droplets from an infected person when they cough, sneeze or talk.

Who’s at risk

Doctors said most people can recover after a few days. However, Zdunek explained, “The real problem exists for the unborn child and pregnant mothers because the risk of congenital rubella is significant.”

He said, “It produces a host of problems for an unborn child. There is usually hearing loss associated, there can be mental retardation associated with it, there can be heart disease associated with it, and there can be ocular, or eye manifestations as a result of it also.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are usually fewer than 10 cases of rubella a year. Most are related to international travel.

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