Rubella (German Measles)

General information about rubella, including symptoms, complications, tests, and treatment.

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On this page:
What is rubella?
What are the symptoms of rubella?
What are the complications of rubella?
How is rubella diagnosed?
Who gets rubella?
Is there a vaccine for rubella?

How is rubella spread?
When and for how long is a person able to spread rubella?
What can be done to prevent the spread of rubella?

What is rubella?

Rubella, also called German measles, is a rash illness caused by a virus.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Symptoms of rubella include a rash, low-grade fever, cough, and swollen glands behind the ears and in the neck. The rash generally appears first on the face and moves from head to foot. The rash usually lasts for 3 days. Rubella symptoms can include joint pain — especially among adult females. Up to half of all persons infected with rubella do not have symptoms.

What health problems does rubella cause?

Most healthy children and adult males recover from rubella without any problems. However, many adults with rubella — especially women — get sore or swollen joints. This joint pain usually lasts for less than one month. Having joint pain longer than that is rare.

If a pregnant woman who is not immune to rubella is infected with rubella before the 21st week of her pregnancy, the baby may develop congenital rubella syndrome, which can cause serious health problems. Often these include: stillbirth, miscarriage, premature delivery, deafness, mental retardation, bone changes, and liver and spleen damage. Some of these problems are noticed at birth or within the first 2 years of life. Others, such as diabetes, may occur later in childhood. The good news is that congenital rubella syndrome is now rare in the United States due to widespread use of rubella vaccine.

How is rubella diagnosed?

Because rubella looks like many other rash illnesses, it can only be diagnosed with laboratory testing. Taking samples of blood, urine, or fluid from the nose and throat are common ways to test for rubella.

Who gets rubella?

Anyone who has not been vaccinated or has not had rubella can get the disease. Because there are people throughout the world and in the United States that are not vaccinated, it is possible that infected travelers can carry rubella to non-vaccinated people

Is there a vaccine for rubella?

Yes. The rubella vaccination is usually combined with measles and mumps (MMR).

  • Children should receive MMR shots at 12 to 15 months of age. (They should have a second dose of the MMR vaccine at 4 to 6 years of age to be fully protected against rubella.)
  • All adults who have not had rubella or a rubella shot should receive an MMR vaccination.
  • All non-pregnant women of childbearing age should receive rubella vaccine if they are not already immune. This will protect future children from the risk and severe consequences of congenital rubella syndrome.
  • Pregnant women who do not have immunity should be vaccinated after their baby is born.

How is rubella spread?

The virus is found in fluids from the mouth and nose of someone with rubella. The virus is spread when fluid containing the virus gets in your nose, mouth, or eyes. This can happen when a person with rubella coughs or sneezes near you, or by touching the fluid and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

The period between exposure to the virus and onset of illness is usually 16 to 18 days, but can range from 14 to 21 days.

When and for how long is a person able to spread rubella?

A person with rubella can spread the virus to others during the period from 7 days before until 7 days after the rash appears.

What can be done to prevent the spread of rubella?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of rubella. Widespread immunization against rubella is critical to controlling the spread of the disease and preventing birth defects caused by congenital rubella syndrome. In addition everyone should:

  • Avoid close contact with others who are ill
  • Wash their hands often
  • Stay at home if ill

Updated Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:20PM