Concern about the Zika outbreak is eerily reminiscent of similar fears during the rubella, or German measles, epidemic of the 1960s [“Zika virus spread by sex, Texas officials say,” News, Feb. 3].
Although identified in 1814, rubella wasn’t linked to birth defects until 1941. Zika, identified in 1947, is only now suspected to be the cause of microcephaly and significant neurological issues in newborns.
There is no Zika vaccine. This, too, was the case with rubella in the 1963-65 pandemic, when an estimated 50,000 pregnant women in the United States were exposed to rubella in the first trimester.
Approximately 20,000 babies were born deaf and blind, and with heart defects and other developmental disabilities associated with rubella syndrome.
Rubella wreaked havoc until a vaccine became available in 1969. Strong immunization policies eliminated rubella in the United States by 2005. Sadly, rubella still thrives in countries without similar policies. Additionally, controversy about vaccine safety has led to a downward trend in immunization rates, leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Zika crisis is a sobering reminder of the lifelong impact of viruses. We hope a vaccine is developed soon and that the public will continue to support strong immunization practices.
Editor’s note: The writers are, respectively, an associate professor of nursing and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Modern Languages at Molloy College.