Cases of rubella infection passed on from pregnant woman to foetus on the rise in India, data shows
New Delhi: India is seeing a rise in the number of rubella infections transmitted from a pregnant woman to foetus, resulting in babies born with various diseases, health ministry data said. Congenital rubella syndrome can cause cataract, deafness, heart defects and mental retardation in newborn babies.
A health ministry surveillance programme found that more than 50 among the 150 babies screened for the rubella syndrome in the last six months had congenital rubella syndrome and birth defects. The foetus usually gets infected in the first three months of pregnancy.
Soumya Swaminathan, secretary, department of health research in the health ministry and director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said it is “high time” India focused on the syndrome. Though the government has included a rubella virus dose with measles vaccine in 2017, a lot more has to be done, she added.
“Rubella virus has the potential to cause abortions, still births and severe birth defects which cannot be reversed such as deafness, low birth weight and intellectual disability,” she said, adding “vaccination is the only solution for preventing congenital rubella syndrome. We need to strengthen and increase our immunization coverage for preventing children from this disease.”
Rubella spreads through droplets when infected persons cough and sneeze. Upon infection, the virus spreads throughout the body in about five to seven days. A pregnant woman may transmit the virus to her foetus.
The ministry estimates there are over 30,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in India every year. In 2010, an estimated 103,000 children were born with congenital rubella syndrome globally, of which around 47,000 children, i.e. 46% were in the South-East Asia region.
To control the congenital rubella syndrome by 2020, India in February 2017 introduced the rubella-containing vaccine under the Universal Immunization Programme, along with the measles vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a single dose of rubella vaccine gives “more than 95% long-lasting immunity”. But immunization coverage has been reported to be low.
According to the January 2018 issue of Cambridge University Press’s Journal of Epidemiology & Infection, low-level rubella vaccination among children over several years can result in an increase in congenital rubella syndrome incidence.
“We used a deterministic age-structured model that reflects Indian states’ rural and urban area-specific demography and vaccination coverage levels to simulate rubella dynamics and estimate congenital rubella syndrome incidence with and without rubella-containing vaccine introduction to the public sector. Our analysis suggests that current low-level private-sector vaccination has already slightly increased the burden of congenital rubella syndrome in India,” the study titled Rubella vaccination in India: identifying broad consequences of vaccine introduction and key knowledge gaps stated.
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