The recent measles outbreak may have sown confusion among pregnant women worried about their developing babies, but state health officials want to set the record straight.
While the outbreak was small in scope, it continues to grow. Salt Lake Valley Health Department announced three new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infected to nine. And it's too early to say whether the outbreak is nearing an end, health officials say.
It still could pose harm to women of childbearing age, said Robert Rolfs, chief medical officer at the Utah Department of Health. "So we are encouraging all women who are or could become pregnant to check with their heath care providers to make sure they have received the two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella [MMR] vaccine."
Many women born before 1989, the date when health officials began recommending a second dose of the MMR vaccine, are not fully vaccinated. This puts them at greater risk of catching the measles, which like the mumps, can cause such complications as miscarriage. Of special concern is the rubella virus, which has been shown to increase the risk for birth defects.
When a woman gets rubella during her pregnancy, her baby is at risk to have "congenital [present at birth] rubella syndrome," say health officials. Symptoms include vision loss due to cataracts and other defects of the eye; congenital heart disease; hearing loss; bleeding underneath the skin that resembles bruises; enlargement of the liver and spleen; jaundice; small head size; and developmental delay.
The best time to get vaccinated is before conception, said Rolfs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding pregnancy for 28 days after immunization with a rubella-containing vaccine.
Still, Julia Robertson, who manages the state's pregnancy risk hot line, has encouraging words for callers who got the MMR vaccine without knowing they were pregnant.
Data from a large sample of women receiving the vaccine during pregnancy show no babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome and there was no increase in the rate of birth defects. Also, new nursing moms who are not immune to measles can get the MMR vaccine because it is safe while breast-feeding, she said.
That said, the safest approach is to get the vaccine before pregnancy, said Robertson. "This is a just a good reminder for women who are thinking of getting pregnant. Eat well, don't drink alcohol, take folic acid, make sure you're up to date on your vaccines, get good exercise so you can make sure you have a healthy baby."
Vaccines and pregnancy
If you're confused about your exposure to drugs or illness during pregnancy, consult your doctor or call Utah's pregnancy risk hot line at 1-800-822-2229.
The hot line, in collaboration with the national Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, is looking for women who have been exposed to influenza, meningitis, or HPV vaccines during their first trimester of pregnancy for a clinical trial.