Rubella or German measles is an acute viral infection that usually affects children and young adults, with most outbreaks occurring in young adults and unvaccinated adults who have not had the disease before. Adults with the infection tend to have more severe symptoms than children.
Complications from rubella are more common in adults and include arthritis, encephalitis and neuritis. Most healthy children and adult males recover from rubella without any problems. Some adults with rubella, especially women, may develop severe symptoms.
Symptoms of rubella in adults may include:
- Mild fever
- Red or pink eyes
- Swollen glands behind the ears
- Joint pain (sore, swollen joints and, less commonly, arthritis)
- Encephalitis (brain infection) is rare but one of the more serious complications
Usually, patients complain of general discomfort one to five days before the rash appears.
Rubella infection in a pregnant woman can harm the fetus, which is the most serious consequence of the infection. Pregnant women who get infected with the rubella virus also expose their babies to the infection. This can cause serious birth defects, such as:
Serious birth defects are more common if a woman is infected early in her pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks. Getting a rubella infection during pregnancy can also cause a miscarriage or premature delivery.
A blood test can help your doctor determine if a recent infection you had was caused by the rubella virus. The test also shows if you have been immunized against rubella or are immune to the virus.
Is rubella contagious?
Yes, rubella, which is caused by a virus from the genus Rubivirus, is contagious and may spread through different means, such as:
- When an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes, small droplets containing infectious agents are released into the air, which may then be breathed in by nearby people.
- By indirect contact with hands, tissues or other articles soiled by nose and throat discharges.
Infected individuals may be contagious as early as a week before the appearance of the rubella rash and for up to a week after it first appears. It is most contagious at the time the rash first appears. Children born with congenital rubella syndrome may transmit the virus to others for more than a year. Rubella cases typically peak in late winter or early spring.
How is rubella treated?
There are no specific treatments for rubella and symptoms usually go away after a few days. However, to ease symptoms, consider the following:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce the fever and treat any aches or pains.
- Liquid infant acetaminophen can be used for young children. Aspirin should not be given to children younger than 16 years.
- Drink lots of fluids.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent rubella
- The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine protect children from rubella by preparing their bodies to fight the rubella virus. Almost all children (at least 95 children out of 100) who get two doses of the MMR vaccine will be protected from the virus.
- MMR vaccine can be given to individuals of any age.
- The time to vaccinate adults should be based on past vaccination history, the likelihood of an individual remaining susceptible and the future risk of exposure to the disease.
- Usually, the first dose of the MMR vaccine is given when a child is 12 to 15 months old.
- A second dose is often given at four to six years of age.
- Women who are considering pregnancy should talk with their health care provider about being tested for immunity to measles, mumps and rubella.
- If not protected, it's best to get vaccinated at least four weeks before trying to become pregnant.
- Teens and adults who are not up to date on their MMR vaccines should talk with their respective doctors.
Rubella can also be prevented by practicing healthy habits
- Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing or turn away from others.
- Immediately throw away used tissues, followed by careful hand washing.
- Avoid sharing objects if they have been in the mouth (pacifiers, toys, silverware, etc.) and wash objects in hot, soapy water in between use.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing or touching common surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards and telephones. You can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
Is the MMR vaccine safe?
Yes, it is safe for most people. However, this vaccine, like other medicines, can cause side effects for some. The MMR vaccine can cause:
More severe problems, such as seizures, bleeding problems or allergic reactions are very rare. Getting an MMR vaccine is much safer than getting a rubella infection and most people do not have any problems with the vaccine.
National Organization for Rare Disorders. Rubella. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/rubella/
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Rubella (German Measles). https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/rubella/
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