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Growing Up Deaf - Rubella

Could It Happen Again?


Updated July 25, 2009

Picture of guide as baby

When they were testing me, at about 1 year old, to see what was wrong.

Jamie Berke
Growing Up Deaf Serial

Rubella (also known as german measles) is a virus infection that causes a brief red rash, and a low fever. If it happens early in a pregnancy, the baby can be born deaf. (Babies can also be born blind, with heart problems, mental retardation, or cerebral palsy, among other things.)

Rubella's Effect on Me

I am deaf because of maternal rubella. In 1963-1965, there was an epidemic of rubella in the United States. (Before a vaccine was developed, the United States had cyclical epidemics of rubella.) That 1963-1965 epidemic produced thousands of deaf babies like myself.

Rubella may have done other things to me too. It made my hands small, and it could be why I am under five feet tall. Rubella is a very damaging virus. In the mid 1990s I read a rubella fact sheet that stated the rubella virus can cause stillbirth. I realized I was fortunate to be born alive, and merely deaf.

Like many rubella babies born decades ago, my deafness was not identified until I was a year and a half old. I was part of a "Rubella Project" at New York University. I went to their offices and took tests that measured intelligence and other skills. "Rubella babies" have been the subject of several studies, and are still being followed today as they age.

Rubella's Educational Impact

The Rubella Bulge of the '60s filled schools for the deaf, and later overcrowded colleges for the deaf. This educational impact has been well-documented in articles and studies. (In addition, when I was a NTID/RIT student, I wrote an article on the rubella bulge for the RIT Reporter magazine that was reprinted in the Summer 1982 NTID Focus magazine).

Rubella's Disappearing Act

Rubella has been eliminated in the United States, according to the Washington Post (March 21, 2005). The Post reported "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."

However, it is a different story in still-developing countries. In those countries, rubella is still a problem due to lack of vaccination (for example, in India, as reported by Hearing Health magazine, Summer 2004). That same Washington Post article also reported that according to the World Health Organization, around 100,000 babies are born annually worldwide with congential rubella syndrome.

Two organizations currently tracking rubella in foreign countries and actively involved in efforts to eradicate it are the Pan American Health Organization (www.paho.org) that focuses on North and South America, and the World Health Organization (www.who.int). The WHO has a page on rubella with world maps showing which countries currently vaccinate routinely for rubella. The map I viewed, for August 2006, showed the primary gaps to be Africa and East Asia.

Rubella in Blog Posts

Rubella has been a topic of previous blog postings:

Rubella Information Online

Several sources of general information on rubella are available online. Here are two:
  • The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults(www.hknc.org) has a page on rubella. In March 2005, the Center sponsored a rubella conference.
  • The ADAM Healthcare Center also has a detailed page on rubella, including graphical illustrations of rubella and its effects.

Rubella and Deafness Information for Researchers

Gallaudet University Library

The Gallaudet University library at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, has some old gems about rubella and deafness found via a catalog.wrlc.org search (the search turned up more than 40 items), such as:

  • Vernon, McKay. Rubella and Deafness Published around 1968 by the National Association of the Deaf.
  • Sigurjonsson, Julius. "Rubella and Congenital Deafness." American Journal of Medical Science, December 1961, volume 242. Photocopied article.
  • Hopkins, Louise A. "Rubella-Deafened Infants: Comparison of a Group of Hereditarily Deaf Children and Their Sibs." Photocopied article from American Journal of Diseases of Children, August 1949, volume 78, no. 2.
Government Databases

These example articles on rubella and deafness were found on either PubMed.gov or Eric.Ed.gov. Some of these articles have abstracts available.

  • "Mainstreaming and Postsecondary Educational and Employment Status of a Rubella Cohort." American Annals of the Deaf, Spring 1990, volume 135 number 1, pp. 22-6.
  • "Effect of Maternal Rubella on Hearing and Vision: a Twenty Year Post-Epidemic Study." American Annals of the Deaf, July 1989, volume 134, number 3, pp. 232-42.
  • "Postsecondary Programs for Deaf Students at the Peak of the Rubella Bulge." American Annals of the Deaf, March 1987, volume 132, number 1, pp. 36-42.
  • "Autoimmunity in Congenital Rubella Syndrome." Journal of Pediatrics. March 1984, volume 104, Number 3, pp. 370-3.
  • In 1980, there was a conference on rubella and deafness. The American Annals of the Deaf, volume 125, Number 8, November 1980, devoted an issue to the conference:
    • An Evaluation of the United States Rubella Immunization Program
    • But Don't Quote Me: Reflections by Parents on Deafness and Rubella.
    • Deaf-Blind Children with Maternal Rubella: Implications for Adult Services.
    • Deafness and Rubella: A Challenge and a Charge to Rehabilitation.
    • Deafness and Rubella: Infants in the '60s, Adults in the '80s.
    • Handicapping Conditions Associated with the Congenital Rubella Syndrome.
    • Multihandicapped Deaf Students in Postsecondary Programs: Guidelines for Planning Services.
    • Neurologic Damage and Behavior Disorder in Rubella Children.
    • Projections for Deaf Students with Maternal Rubella: College and Other Alternatives.
    • Reflections of a Deaf-Blind Adult.
    • Rubella-Caused Deafness: Maintaining Objectivity and a Positive Frame of Reference.
    • The "Rubella Bulge" and Vocational Planning.
    • The Demographics of Deafness Resulting from Maternal Rubella.
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