The Changing Epidemiology of Rubella in the 1990s: On the Verge of Elimination and New Challenges for Control and Prevention | Infectious Diseases | JAMA Network
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Original Contribution
January 23/30, 2002

The Changing Epidemiology of Rubella in the 1990s: On the Verge of Elimination and New Challenges for Control and Prevention

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: National Immunization Program (Drs Reef and Wharton and Ms McCauley) and National Center for Infectious Diseases (Dr Icenogle), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Georgia State University (Dr Frey and Ms Abernathy), and Emory University School of Public Health (Ms Theall), Atlanta; and Utah Department of Health, Salt Lake City (Ms Burnett).

JAMA. 2002;287(4):464-472. doi:10.1001/jama.287.4.464

Context In 1989, the United States established a goal to eliminate indigenous rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) by 2000. Reported rubella cases are at record low levels; however, cases and outbreaks have occurred, primarily among unvaccinated foreign-born adults.

Objective To evaluate the current epidemiology of rubella and CRS and assess progress toward elimination.

Design, Setting, and Subjects Analysis of rubella cases reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System from 1990 through 1999 and CRS cases reported to the National Congenital Rubella Syndrome Registry from 1990 through 1999. Since 1996, US and international viral isolates have been sequenced.

Main Outcome Measures Incidence and characteristics of rubella and CRS cases; molecular typing of virus isolates.

Results Annually from 1990 through 1999, the median number of reported rubella cases was 232 (range, 128-1412), and between 1992 and 1999, fewer than 300 rubella cases were reported annually, except in 1998. During the 1990s, the incidence of rubella in children younger than 15 years decreased (0.63 vs 0.06 per 100 000 in 1990 vs 1999), whereas the incidence in adults aged 15 to 44 years increased (0.13 vs 0.24 per 100 000). In 1992, incidence among Hispanics was 0.06 per 100 000 and increased to a high in 1998 of 0.97 per 100 000. From 1997 through 1999, 20 (83%) of 24 CRS infants were born to Hispanic mothers, and 21 (91%) of 23 CRS infants were born to foreign-born mothers. Molecular typing identified 3 statistically distinct genotypic groups. In group 1, the close relatedness of viruses suggests that a single imported source seeded an outbreak that did not spread beyond the Northeast. Similarly, within groups 2 and 3, relatedness of viruses obtained from clusters of cases suggests that single imported sources seeded each one. Diversity of viruses found in 1 state is consistent with the conclusion that several viruses were imported. Moreover, the similarity of viruses found across the country, combined with a lack of epidemiologic evidence of endemic transmission, support the conclusion that some viruses that are common abroad, particularly in Latin America and the Carribean, were introduced into the United States on several separate occasions.

Conclusions The epidemiology of rubella and CRS has changed significantly in the last decade. These changes and molecular typing suggest that the United States is on the verge of elimination of the disease. To prevent future rubella outbreaks and CRS, current strategies must be enhanced and new strategies developed.