The invisible "chain of transmission" of rubella virus has been broken in the United States. With it disappears a disease that a little more than a generation ago struck fear in the heart of every pregnant woman.I recall epidemics of German Measles from my youth. I was pretty young at the time, but I believe I recall an epidemic around the time my mother was pregnant with one or the other of my younger brothers, causing a concern. I had it, but it was, as they noted, a rather mild disease in children, more of an excuse to stay home from school than anything else.
Fewer than 10 people a year in this country now contract the infection known popularly as German measles. Since 2002, all cases have been traceable to foreigners who carried the virus in from abroad.
Between those rare events, however, no rubella virus has circulated in the United States because the bug simply cannot find enough susceptible hosts. After years of assiduous vaccination, virtually the entire U.S. population is immune.
Mild and often entirely unnoticed in children, rubella infection can be devastating to developing fetuses. A woman infected with the virus in the first three months of pregnancy will probably suffer miscarriage, or deliver a stillborn or permanently disabled child. In the last great U.S. epidemic of rubella -- 40 years ago, before there was a vaccine against the disease -- about 12,000 babies were born deaf or deaf and blind.
But with a little help from the anti-vaxxers, we could easily find ourselves back in the same situation.