AUSTIN, Texas — The year 1999 was the last time both measles and rubella were reported in Travis County. Now, in a span of less than just one month, both have been confirmed in the area again.

Health officials said an adult who lives in Travis County contracted rubella while traveling overseas. The person was traveling on a plane from Thailand back to the U.S. The person did not travel through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the airport has confirmed.

Austin Public Health announced on Jan. 16, 2020, that it was investigating a case of rubella. It confirmed the measles case on Dec. 22, 2019. However, since confirming that case, APH said no additional measles patients have been discovered as a result of the initial exposure.

Both illnesses can be prevented by the MMR vaccine, which also covers mumps. Although APH said Travis County has a relatively high vaccination rate, there are pockets of the community where opt-outs bring "herd immunity to an unstable status."

Those who are most likely to be impacted by rubella the most are children and pregnant women, as well as their unborn child:

  • Unvaccinated children who attend school with an infected child are required by state law to stay home for 21 days following contact.
  • Pregnant women who are not vaccinated have a high risk of congenital rubella syndrome, which can lead to birth defects including deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, or liver and spleen damage. There is also a heightened risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

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"So this disease is primarily a problem for pregnant women, so we know that if a woman who is unvaccinated gets rubella during their first trimester of pregnancy, there’s a 90% chance they will transmit that infection to their child," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority and medical director for APH. "And that can lead to substantial birth defects including deafness, blindness, and a number of other problems." 

APH reports that rubella is less contagious than measles, but they both have similar symptoms and are contracted the same way – mostly through droplets from a sick person's nose when they cough, sneeze or talk. It can also be spread by touching virus-contaminated objects and then touching your face. 

"The attack rate for measles is about 90%, and that means if you’re unvaccinated and you’re exposed to it, nine out of 10 people will get measles," Dr. Escott explained. "Rubella is much less contagious – about 10-30% attack rate. Therefore it really relies on closer contact or prolonged contact for this infection to spread."

Symptoms of rubella include a red rash, low-grade fever, headache, mild pink eye, swollen lymph nodes, coughing or a runny nose. If you experience any of these symptoms, you are encouraged to stay home and call your medical provider.

"The rash is similar to measles. It starts on the face, and then goes down from there," said Dr. Escott. "The difference is, this rash only lasts about three days which is why it’s sometimes called three-day measles."

Children are encouraged to get the first dose of the MMR vaccine between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and the second dose at four or six years old. If a child could be traveling outside of the U.S. or might be infected by an outbreak, the vaccine is sometimes recommended as early as six months of age.

Dr. Escott said it is never too late to get the vaccine. He also said if you aren't sure if you've received the vaccine or not, there are tests your doctor can run to check. 

“Along with the requirement to keep your unvaccinated child home for weeks, there are significant health risks to being exposed to rubella,” said Dr. Escott. “Please, check if you and your family are up to date on vaccinations to prevent the comeback of these previously eliminated diseases.”

For more information about the vaccine, click here.

While this is the first case of Rubella in Travis County since 1999, Texas has seen cases in recent years. In 2015, there were two reported cases in Tarrant County. In 2017, there was one reported case of rubella in Harris County.

Meanwhile, measles can also be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Around one in four people with measles will be hospitalized. 

APH said the symptoms of measles start with a fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose. On day four of the infection, APH said a rash starts on the face and spreads down the body. Small, blue-white spots appear on the cheeks inside the mouth. You can find out more about the symptoms online.

KVUE previously reported that Austin is one of 14 anti-vaccine hot spots in the country.

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