Rubella, also known as the German measles, is an infection in which there is a rash on the skin.
See also: Congenital rubella -- when a pregnant woman is infected with rubella and passes it to her baby while still in the womb.
Three day measles; German measles
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Rubella is caused by a virus that is spread through the air or by close contact.
A person with rubella may spread the disease to others from 1 week before the rash begins, until 1 - 2 weeks after the rash disappears.
Because the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is given to most children, rubella is much less common now. Almost everyone who receives the vaccine has immunity to rubella. Immunity means that your body has built a defense to the rubella virus.
In some adults, the vaccine may wear off and not fully protect them. Women who may become pregnant and other adults may receive a booster shot.
Children and adults who were never vaccinated against rubella may still get this infection.
Children generally have few symptoms. Adults may experience a fever, headache, general discomfort (malaise), and a runny nose before the rash appears. They may not notice the symptoms.
Other symptoms may include:
Inflammation of the eyes (bloodshot eyes)
Muscle or joint pain
Signs and tests
A nasal or throat swab may be sent for culture.
A blood test can be done to see if a person is protected against rubella. All women who may become pregnant should have this test. If the test is negative, they will receive the vaccine.
There is no treatment for this disease.
Patients can take acetaminophen to reduce fever.
Defects that occur with congenital rubella syndrome can be treated.
Rubella is usually a mild infection.
After an infection, people have immunity to the disease for the rest of their lives.
Complications can occur in the unborn baby if the mother becomes infected during pregnancy. A miscarriage or stillbirth may occur. The child may be born with birth defects.
There is a safe and effective vaccine to prevent rubella. The rubella vaccine is recommended for all children. It is routinely given when children are 12 - 15 months old, but is sometimes given earlier during epidemics. A second vaccination (booster) is routinely given to children ages 4 - 6. MMR is a combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.
Women of childbearing age usually have a blood test to see if they have immunity to rubella. If they are not immune, women should avoid getting pregnant for 28 days after receiving the vaccine.
Those who should not get vaccinated include:
Women who are pregnant
Anyone whose immune system is affected by cancer, corticosteroid medications, or radiation treatment.
Great care is taken not to give the vaccine to a woman who is already pregnant. However, in the rare instances when pregnant women have been vaccinated, no problems have been detected in the infants.
Weisberg SS. Vaccine preventable diseases: current perspectives in historical context. Dis Mon. 2007;53:467-528.
Coonrod DV, Jack BW, Boggess KA. The clinical content of preconception care: immunizations as part of preconception care. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008;199(6 Suppl 2):S290-S295.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.