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Rubella (German Measles)

Topic Overview

What is rubella?

Rubella is a very contagious (easily spread) illness caused by the rubella virus. It is usually a mild illness. But in rare cases, it may cause more serious problems.

If you are pregnant and get infected with the rubella virus, your baby (fetus) could become infected too. This can cause birth defects, including serious defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). CRS can cause hearing loss, eye problems, heart problems, and other complications.

Rubella also is called German measles or 3-day measles.

What causes rubella?

The rubella virus most often is spread through droplets of fluid from the mouth, nose, or eyes of someone who has the infection. A person who has the infection can spread these droplets by coughing, sneezing, talking, or sharing food or drinks. You can get infected by touching something that has the droplets on it and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands.

If you have rubella, you are most likely to spread it a few days before the rash starts until 5 to 7 days after the rash first appears. But you can spread the virus even if you don't have any symptoms.

If you've had rubella, it is very unlikely that you will get it again.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of rubella may include:

  • A mild fever.
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes), especially behind the ear and at the back of the head.
  • A mild rash that starts on the face and spreads to the neck, the chest, and the rest of the body.

Adults, especially women, also may have joint pain. Older children and teens also may have eye pain, a sore throat, and body aches. Young children may have only a rash.

Symptoms may not start until 14 to 21 days after you've been near someone who has the infection. Some people don't have symptoms.

How is rubella diagnosed?

A blood test can help your doctor find out if a recent infection you've had was caused by the rubella virus. The test also shows if you have been immunized against rubella or are immune to the virus.

How is it treated?

Rubella usually gets better with home care.

  • Use medicines to reduce fever and body aches. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Drink extra fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Stay away from other people, especially pregnant women, as much as you can so that you don't spread the illness. If you or your child has rubella, don't go to work, school, or day care for 7 days after the rash first appears.1

If you are exposed to the rubella virus while you're pregnant, talk to your doctor. He or she may give you a shot of immunoglobulin (IG) if testing shows that you are not immune. IG doesn't prevent infection, but it may make symptoms less severe. It also lowers the chance of birth defects, although it doesn't always prevent them. Children with congenital rubella syndrome have been born to mothers who have received IG.

Can rubella be prevented?

The rubella vaccine protects at least 9 out of 10 immunized people from getting this illness.1 In the United States, the vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots.

Outbreaks may occur in people who haven't gotten the vaccine. This is more likely to happen in college, military, health care, and child care settings and among people who have recently moved to the United States from other countries.1

If you are planning to become pregnant and don't know if you're immune to rubella, get a blood test to find out. If you're not immune, you can safely get the rubella vaccine up to 1 month before you become pregnant. If you're not immune and didn't get the vaccine before you became pregnant, take extra care to avoid contact with the virus. Avoid the saliva of babies and young children, and wash your hands often.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Vaccines and Immunizations
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Web Address: www.cdc.gov/vaccines
 

This CDC website has information about vaccines and the diseases that can be prevented by immunization. It includes the recommended immunization schedules for children, teens, and adults. You can also find information about vaccine side effects and safety, school and state requirements, and immunization records. Interactive schedules are also available.



March of Dimes
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY  10605
Phone: (914) 997-4488
Web Address: www.marchofdimes.com
 

The March of Dimes tries to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and early death. March of Dimes supports research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies' lives. The organization's website has information on premature birth, birth defects, birth defects testing, pregnancy, and prenatal care.



National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health
NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations
6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612
Bethesda, MD  20892-6612
Phone: 1-866-284-4107 toll-free
Phone: (301) 496-5717
Fax: (301) 402-3573
TDD: 1-800-877-8339
Web Address: www.niaid.nih.gov
 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducts research and provides consumer information on infectious and immune-system-related diseases.



National Network for Immunization Information
301 University Boulevard
Galveston, TX  77555
Phone: (703) 299-0789
Fax: (409) 772-5208
Email: nnii@i4ph.org
Web Address: www.immunizationinfo.org
 

The National Network for Immunization Information provides information on immunizations, including each of the recommended childhood vaccines, the recommended childhood immunization schedule, tips on using the World Wide Web as a source of immunization and health information, and links to other helpful sites. You can also search for the vaccines that each state requires before entry into school or day care.



Vaccines.gov
200 Independence Avenue, Southwest
Room 715H
Washington, DC 20201
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.vaccines.gov
 

This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website has vaccine information from many federal agencies. A Spanish version of the website is available at http://es.vaccines.gov.



References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Rubella. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 579–584. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Public Health Association (2008). Rubella (German measles). In DL Heymann, ed., Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 19th ed., pp. 529–534. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Rubella. In W Atkinson et al., eds., Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, 12th ed., pp. 291–300. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/index.html.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Prevention of measles, rubella, congenital rubella syndrome, and mumps, 2013: Summary recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 62(RRO4): 1–34. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6204a1.htm.
  • Cherry JD (2009). Rubella virus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2271–2300. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Levin MJ, Weinberg A (2011). Infections: Viral and rickettsial. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 1107–1147. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Mason WH (2011). Rubella. In RM Kleigman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1075–1078. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last Revised August 14, 2013

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