German Measles (Rubella)
Rubella is a contagious viral infection that is also called German measles or three-day measles. While rubella infection symptoms are mild, they are more severe for pregnant women.

Rubella, commonly called German measles or three-day measles, is usually a mild illness caused by a virus. While it is also called German measles the virus that causes measles does not cause rubella.

What is rubella?

Rubella is a mild illness that leads to a rash, fever, and eye redness in children. However, if a pregnant woman gets infected with the Rubella virus, it can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth or cause congenital rubella syndrome in babies, including the following birth defects:

Rubella is contagious and spreads through droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person.

Is rubella severe?

Usually, rubella is a mild illness that affects adults and children. However, rubella can become severe if a pregnant woman contracts the virus. The woman may face pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage or stillbirth. Additionally, the mother may pass on the virus to the child, causing severe birth defects, including:

  • Cataracts
  • Deafness
  • Heart defects
  • Mental retardation
  • Intellectual disability
  • Liver or spleen damage
  • Poorly functioning organs

How are rubella and measles different?

Although rubella or measles may have some similar characteristics, they are not the same.

Table. Differences between rubella and measles
Rubella Measles
Rubella is caused by the Rubella virus that invades the lymph nodes, eyes, and skin. Measles is caused by Morbillivirus that infects the respiratory system.
Usually mild, but can get severe in pregnant women. Severe and can be life-threatening.
Characterized by a pink rash that starts in the face and spreads to the body, lasting for three to five days. The rash may be itchy and associated with other symptoms, such as red and watery eyes, running nose, headache, and joint pain. Symptoms start with high fever, runny nose, cough, and red, watery eyes. Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background are found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek (Koplik’s spots) two-three days after the initial symptoms. The rash appears as flat red spots on the face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet.
Symptoms may appear 12 to 23 days after contact with the virus. Symptoms may appear 7 to 14 days after contact with the virus.

In rare cases, rubella can cause serious problems, including brain infection and bleeding problems.

Infected babies can develop congenital rubella syndrome, with birth defects such as:

  • Heart problems
  • Loss of hearing and eyesight
  • Intellectual disability
  • Liver or spleen damage

Complications of measles include:

  • Ear infection
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis
  • Pregnancy problems (such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery)

Can rubella be prevented?

Rubella can be prevented if you take the rubella vaccine that typically consists of a combination of measles, mumps, and varicella vaccines.

Rubella vaccines are generally administered to children when they are 12 to 15 months old. The second dose is administered between the ages of four and six years.

If you are planning to become pregnant, you must know if you are vaccinated against rubella. If you are not sure about your vaccination status, you should have your immunity tested. Additionally, people should get their immunity tested if they:

  • Attend an educational facility.
  • Work in a medical facility or school.
  • Frequently travel to countries that don’t offer immunization against rubella.

You can expect some side effects after getting a rubella vaccine. Hence, the following people should not get the vaccine:

  • Immunocompromised people
  • Pregnant women

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Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2021
References
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Rubella (German Measles). https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/rubella/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles (Rubeola). https://www.cdc.gov/measles/symptoms/signs-symptoms.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rubella (German Measles, Three-Day Measles). https://www.cdc.gov/rubella/about/complications.html