Rubella, also known as German measles, is a fairly mild virus infection thatgenerally affects children and young adults. The symptoms include slight fever, swollen lymph glands and a slight skin rash which may or may not be present. The relative mildness of the disease belies the fact that rubella in a pregnant woman can result in tragic consequences for the fetus. If a woman has the disease, especially in the early months of pregnancy, the virus travels through the placenta and affects development of the fetus. Spontaneous abortionoccurs in 10 percent of cases, but if the pregnancy comes to term, the newborn infant is likely to be born with heart disease, eye defects, deafness, mental retardation or a combination of these.
The virus that causes rubella was first grown in laboratory culture by ThomasWeller of Harvard and Children's Hospital in Boston. However, an epidemic inthe United States in 1964 prompted Paul D. Parkman, a physician who had isolated and propagated the virus, to work on developing an attenuated virus suitable for a vaccine. Working with associates Harry M. Meyer, Jr. and TheodoreC. Panos, Parkman developed a vaccine made from attenuated viruses grown in monkey cells. Shortly thereafter, clinical trials were begun in children and women of child-bearing age.
By 1968, three other research groups had begun developing a vaccine for rubella. Stanley A. Plotkin obtained viruses from diploid human cells, while another doctor worked with rabbit cells. At the same time, Maurice R. Hilleman grew attenuated viruses in duck cells, knowing that mammalian cells sometimes contain other viruses that can infect human cells and cause cancer. All of these vaccines were tested and used throughout the 1970s leading to a reduction in cases of rubella, although the Parkman-Meyer vaccine was more virulent andcaused more side effects in adults. Since that time, the MMR vaccine has beendeveloped that offers protection against not only rubella, but also measlesand mumps. MMR vaccinations are required for school-age children in many states.