Why pregnant women are being warned against going to Japan

Pregnant and traveling to Japan? It is important you read this first. Source: Shutterstock.

MORE than 1,100 cases of rubella have been reported in Japan, mostly in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama prefecture, with most of the cases centered in and around Tokyo.

As such, several countries have issued travel warnings, advising travelers, particularly pregnant travelers, to not go to Japan.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a level two alert dated Oct 22, 2018, which advises “enhanced precautions,” adding that only women who have been vaccinated against rubella should go to Japan.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) also issued a similar travel warning for Japan, saying, “All pregnant women and women preparing for pregnancy who are non-immune to rubella should not travel to Japan during the outbreak,” before going on to explain that infection during pregnancy could result in the abnormal development of the fetus.

What is rubella?

You may know it by its more common name, German measles. It is a highly contagious disease transmitted through coughs and sneezes of infected people.

Rubella generally causes mild illness such as low-grade fever, pinkeye, runny nose, sore throat, achy joints, and swollen lymph nodes.

According to CDC, between 25 and 50 percent of people will have no symptoms at all. But for pregnant women, it is extremely dangerous.

Rubella Japan

Source: Shutterstock.

The health risks for expecting mommies include miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe birth defects such as deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities and damage to the liver, spleen or brain.

How can it be avoided?

Vaccination.

Rubella Japan

Source: Shutterstock.

While women who are already pregnant and not protected against rubella cannot be vaccinated against it, you can take the necessary steps to ensure you are.

Travelers to Japan should make sure they are vaccinated against rubella with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine before travel.

Adults and children (one year of age or older) should have two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days while infants (between six to 11 months of age) should also have one dose of MMR vaccine.

The last time Japan saw a major rubella outbreak was from 2012 to 2013, when more than 15,000 cases were recorded.