German measles / Rubella

Alison Morley, who was interviewed by Lorraine Cahalane in 1998, grew up on the Northside of Cork City. At the very beginning of the interview, she is asked about her earliest memory, and she recalls getting her sight for the first time at the age of four, after having lost her sight after contracting German Measles. She describes what it was like to be blind as a child, and how that experience will never leave her.

Content log of this extract (the full transcript can be accessed here in the item entry):

earliest memory – getting sight for the first time at 4 – German Measles – frightening – learning how to move around the house – in hospital – ‘and then all of a sudden you can see’ – touching fruit – I think it will never leave me – you get so agitated – how did your mother cope? – she had to show me how to touch things, go down steps – in an ambulance telling them I can see – they couldn’t believe it – even still to this very day it’ll never, ever leave me – I could still be blind if my sight hadn’t come back

German measles: history and prevention

German measles, also known as rubella, is a viral infection that causes a red rash on the body. German measles is typically a mild infection that goes away within one week, even without treatment. However, it can be a serious condition in pregnant women, as it may disrupt the development of the baby and cause serious birth defects, such as heart abnormalities, deafness, and brain damage. For example, rubella infection in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy carries a 90 per cent risk of congenital abnormalities, and manifestations of the congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) include cataracts, cerebral palsy, congenital heart disease and deafness. Aside from CRS, German measles rarely causes severe complications but can occasionally lead to pneumonia, bronchitis and inflammation of the brain. The rubella virus was first isolated in 1962, and by 1965 vaccine trials had begun in the United States. The aim of rubella vaccination is to protect women of childbearing age, and in Ireland a single rubella vaccine for pre-pubertal girls was introduced in 1971. This was followed in 1988 by the one-dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and succeeded by a two-dose vaccine in 1992. Ireland currently has extremely low rates of rubella infection with no confirmed cases in Ireland since 2009. However, due to low vaccine uptake in the 1990s, due to the now-discredited link between the MMR and autism, it still remains a risk. In fact, a recent study undertaken to examine levels of antibodies to rubella in Irish females identified a rubella-susceptible cohort of younger adults now presenting to maternity services. These women are at greater risk of CRS and also pose a potential risk for the re-emergence of rubella in Ireland.

References for this section:

Anon (2021). German measles. [online] HSE.ie. Available at: <https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/g/german-measles/introduction.html> [Accessed 10 May 2021].

Kelleher, O, (2021). First Irish rubella case for over a decade confirmed in Cork. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/first-irish-rubella-case-for-over-a-decade-confirmed-in-cork-1.4184360> [Accessed 10 May 2021].

Anon (2021). Rubella - Health Protection Surveillance Centre. [online] Available at: <https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/vaccinepreventable/rubella/> [Accessed 10 May 2021].

Winter, G, (2021). Rubella threat hasn’t gone away you know. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: <https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/rubella-threat-hasn-t-gone-away-you-know-1.3528945> [Accessed 10 May 2021].

This is a live resource that will grow throughout 2021 and 2022.