Although most infections with the rubella virus result in relatively minor sequelae, rubella infection in early pregnancy may lead to severe adverse outcomes for the fetus. First recognized in 1941, congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) can manifest with a diverse range of symptoms, including congenital cataracts, glaucoma, and cardiac defects, as well as hearing and intellectual disability. The gestational age of the fetus at the time of the maternal rubella infection impacts the probability and severity of outcomes, with infection in early pregnancy increasing the risks of spontaneous termination (miscarriage), fetal death (stillbirth), birth defects, and reduced survival for live-born infants. Rubella vaccination continues to change the epidemiology of rubella and CRS globally, but no models currently exist to evaluate the economic benefits of rubella management. This systematic review provides an overall assessment of the weight of the evidence for the outcomes associated with rubella infections in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. We identified, evaluated, and graded 31 studies (all from developed countries) that reported on the pregnancy outcomes of at least 30 maternal rubella infections. We used the available evidence to estimate the increased risks of spontaneous termination, fetal death, infant death, and CRS as a function of the timing of rubella infection in pregnancy and decisions about induced termination. These data support the characterization of the disability-adjusted life years for outcomes associated with rubella infection in pregnancy. We find significant impacts associated with maternal rubella infections in early pregnancy, which economic analyses will miss if they only focus on live births of CRS cases. Our estimates of fetal loss from increased induced terminations due to maternal rubella infections provide context that may help to explain the relatively low numbers of observed CRS cases per year despite potentially large burdens of disease. Our comprehensive review of the weight of the evidence of all pregnancy outcomes demonstrates the importance of including all outcomes in models that characterize rubella-related disease burdens and costs.
Keywords: Abortion; congenital rubella syndrome; pregnancy; rubella.
© 2014 Society for Risk Analysis.