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Rubella (German Measles)

What is rubella?

Rubella is a viral infection that usually causes a mild illness with rash. Rubella is also called German measles.

What is the cause?

The rubella virus is spread through the air by coughing or sneezing.

Rubella used to be a common childhood disease. In the US, most children now get shots of rubella vaccine to prevent the disease, so the disease is much less common. Rubella occurs worldwide, and the risk of being exposed to rubella outside the US can be high in places where many people may not be vaccinated against rubella.

What are the symptoms?

You may not have any symptoms. If you do, they usually appear about 2 to 3 weeks after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:

  • A rash that starts on the chest or face, spreads to other parts of the body
  • Mild fever
  • Runny nose and cough
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Headache and joint aches
  • Feeling tired
  • Tender, swollen lumps (lymph nodes) on the neck and below the ears

The rash is the most common symptom but the other symptoms may appear 1 to 5 days before the rash. They usually go away quickly after the first day of rash. The rash first looks like a blush and then develops into a more defined pinpoint rash. The rash usually lasts 3 days or less. Some people don’t get a rash.

Rubella is contagious for about a week before you start having a rash and then stays contagious for 5 to 7 more days.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have a blood test.

How is it treated?

Since the symptoms are so mild, treatment is not usually needed unless you are pregnant. Women who are infected with rubella any time during the first 3 months of pregnancy may have a miscarriage or stillbirth, or the child may be born with serious birth defects. If you are pregnant and have a rubella infection, medicine may be given to you if you wish to continue the pregnancy. This drug, called hyperimmune globulin, may reduce your symptoms. However, the baby is still at risk of birth defects and other problems.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent rubella?

If you had German measles earlier in life or have had shots against rubella, you are protected. Rubella vaccine is included in the MMR shot.

Women who thinking about getting pregnant should check with their healthcare provider to make sure they are protected before they get pregnant. Blood tests can be done to see if you are immune to rubella. If you are not immune and not pregnant, you can have the shot to protect you and any children you might have in the future. To be safe, you should avoid getting pregnant for 3 months after the shot. However, there has never been a reported complication of pregnancy for mothers who get pregnant sooner than this after the shot.

All children should get measles shots. The first dose of rubella vaccine is given to children between 12 and 15 months of age and the second is given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-02
Last reviewed: 2013-12-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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