For most people, rubella is a really mild disease. Up to "50% of infections may be subclinical or inapparent. " However, if a pregnant woman falls ill with rubella, the consequences can be tragic.
A rubella epidemic in the United States in 1964-1965 resulted in 12.5 million cases of rubella infection and about 20,000 newborns with CRS. The estimated cost of the epidemic was $840 million. This does not include the emotional toll on the families involved.
Infection with rubella virus is most severe in early gestation. The virus may affect all organs and cause a variety of congenital defects. Infection may lead to fetal death, spontaneous abortion, or preterm delivery. The severity of the effects of rubella virus on the fetus depends largely on the time of gestation at which infection occurs. As many as 85% of infants infected in the first trimester of pregnancy will be found to be affected if followed after birth. While fetal infection may occur throughout pregnancy, defects are rare when infection occurs after the 20th week of gestation. The overall risk of defects during the third trimester is probably no greater than that associated with uncomplicated pregnancies.
Here is the story of one man, Ian who was affected by rubella in utero. These disabilities can be prevented by a simple vaccine given in childhood.