Saskatchewan

Sask. mom warns others after baby's rubella scare

A Regina mom is urging people to vaccinate their kids after her baby became sick with an unknown illness, initially diagnosed as rubella. 

8-month-old infant is still too young to get vaccine

Justine Rombaut says her son Benjamin was diagnosed with rubella after developing a fever and rash. Rombaut, pictured with the baby and her eldest son Sabastian, says the rubella diagnosis was proven wrong with further testing and doctors aren't sure what is causing Benjamin's symptoms. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

A Regina mom is urging people to vaccinate their kids after her baby became sick with an unknown illness, initially diagnosed as rubella. 

Justine Rombaut said her son Benjamin developed a fever and rash on May 4.

At first, doctors thought he had both eye and ear infections and he was given an antibiotic.

Benjamin woke up early Monday morning with a severe fever and tiny red dots on his body, including his palms and the soles of his feet.

Rombaut took him back to the doctor and he was diagnosed with rubella, also called German measles or three-day measles.

Rombaut said she called everyone Benjamin had recently been in contact with, and advised public centres they had visited in the past week, to let people know he had been carrying the virus. 

On Friday, the doctor rescinded his diagnosis and said testing for measles and rubella turned up negative. 

The boy is being retested and medical staff are unsure what made him sick. 

"It's pretty shocking [the doctor] got this wrong," said Rombaut. "I'm still in panic mode because rather than it being rubella, we just don't know."

Benjamin woke up one day with a severe fever and tiny red dots on his body, including his palms and the soles of his feet. He was given a steroid cream to reduce his discomfort. (Submitted by Justine Rombaut)

Rombaut said the doctor she took Benjamin to was someone recommended by her family doctor, who was too busy for the emergency appointment. 

"I don't think I will see that doctor again. I don't ever want to go through being misdiagnosed for someone so small again. What if it was something even more serious and he had been wrong?"

According to data reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada, there have been no recorded cases of rubella in the country so far this year. 

Rubella is a contagious viral infection that affects the skin and lymph nodes. Symptoms in children include a rash, fever, nausea and red eyes. Rubella can also be passed from mother to fetus and can result in major birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth.

In Canada, the rubella vaccine is given in two doses during childhood. You have to be 12 to 24 months old to receive the first dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and a booster is administered between the ages of four and six years old. The vaccine can protect you for life.

But babies under one year old, like Benjamin, are at risk of getting sick from people who have chosen not to be vaccinated.

"Go get your kids vaccinated," Rombaut said. "To be honest, people don't really think it's a problem. And it is. It's a huge problem."

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, vaccination rates in the province remain high and are continually monitored. 

"Vaccination is particularly important for the health and safety of those who are most vulnerable, either because they are too young to be vaccinated or they have a medical condition that precludes them from being vaccinated," reads an emailed statement from the Ministry of Health. 

"Families with very young or ill children rely on high rates of vaccination in the community to protect their children from diseases that in some cases are deadly."

Rombaut said the doctor initially told her Benjamin likely came across the rubella virus at the mall, about a week before he began showing symptoms.

"All they had to do is cough or sneeze and it's airborne," Rombaut said. "We could've put him in a shopping cart and he could've caught it walking down the aisle.

"Wipe off all your handles, anywhere that your baby might touch, you never know. Somebody else could have something and they don't take any precautions, they don't care."

Rombaut says Benjamin's fever has broken and his rash is going away. He still has red bumps on his arms and leakage from his eyes. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Since it's a virus, rubella can't be treated with antibiotics. Benjamin was given steroid cream to stop the itching and pain from his rash. He has also been taking two to three oatmeal baths a day to calm irritation.

"I kind of wish I could've just made it to my regular doctor. It's pretty frustrating he was given the steroid cream for it. Now I'm thinking, maybe I shouldn't have put that on him," said Rombault.

Rombaut said public health will do further tests in hopes of determining the cause.  

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated Benjamin had rubella. This was based on the initial diagnosis by a doctor. That diagnosis has since been rescinded. The story has been updated to reflect the new information.
    May 17, 2019 11:30 AM CT

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.