The United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has warned non-immunised pregnant women to avoid travel to Tokyo as Japan’s rubella outbreak continues.

Rubella, often called German Measles, is a highly contagious viral disease. It is spread through direct contact and airborne particles from coughs and sneezes. Symptoms include a rash and a fever for 2-3 days. Infections contracted early in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) in an infant. CRS is a lifelong disability that causes birth defects such as deafness, cataracts (blurred vision), heart defects, mental disabilities, and organ damage.

Up to 90 per cent of women who contract rubella early in their pregnancy will pass it on to their unborn children.

How did the rubella outbreak start?

Japan has reported 2288 cases of rubella since December 18, 2019, a significant increase on the past few months. Health authorities have reported the majority of cases in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama).

The epidemic is believed to have started in men aged between their late thirties to early fifties. Men in this age group missed out on vaccination programs in childhood. From August 1977 to March 1995, the Japanese Government gave high school girls a free single-dose rubella vaccination. It only offered the vaccinations to boys from April 1995.

The Japanese government has offered free vaccinations for men who missed out in school in an effort to slow the spread of the disease ahead of the 2020 Olympics. However, many men have failed to take up the offer.

Check with your GP to ensure your vaccinations are up to date. Picture: BigStock

I’m going to Japan, what should I do?

The CDC Level 2 alert states pregnant women should “avoid travelling to Japan during this outbreak if not protected against rubella, through either vaccination or previous rubella infection. This is especially important during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Australian Government is yet to issue any such warning to pregnant Australians. If you are planning a trip to Japan, make sure your immunisations are up to date and keep an eye on the Smart Traveller website for updated information from the Australian Authorities.

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Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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