What is Rubella?

Rubella is an infection that affects mostly the skin and lymph nodes. Known as the German Measles, The Rubella virus can spread via several methods, including:

  • Direct contact with an infected person
  • Through the air, such as when an infected person coughs, talks or sneezes

This illness is not particularly aggressive and many people who contracted it at some point may not have even realized it. It is characterized by a red rash that starts 10 to 15 days after exposure and that usually lasts for approximately three days.

What are the Symptoms of Rubella?

Rubella symptoms may show within a couple of days of mild fever and tender lymph nodes, usually in the back of the neck. A rash can begin showing on the face and spread downward.

A rubella rash is often the first sign of an illness that can be seen. It may appear as either pink or red spots that can merge to form evenly colored patches. The rash can become very itchy and last up to 3-4 days, sometimes longer. As the rash clears, parts of the skin may start to flake off.

Some of the other symptoms of Rubella can include loss of appetite, sinus congestion and swollen joints. Some people who contract Rubella may show no symptoms. Rubella in some pregnant women can cause congenital rubella syndrome. This is a disease with potentially devastating consequences for the developing fetus. Children who are infected with rubella before birth are at risk for potentially significant lifelong health problems for the child.

Rubella Causes

Rubella is caused by a viral infection which is highly contagious. The virus can be transmitted by airborne droplets, for example those from a sneeze or cough. This means that it could be breathed in by others who are near an infected person who coughs, sneezes or even talks in close proximity to them.

It’s also possible to contract rubella by touching surfaces which have been contaminated by droplets from an infected person. For example, someone who covers their mouth to cough and then uses that same hand to open a door could leave traces of the virus on the door handle. If someone else touches the handle soon afterwards, they could contract rubella themselves.

How is Rubella Treated?

Because Rubella is caused by a virus rather than a form of bacteria, there is no specific treatment available. Healthcare providers can prescribe medications with the goal of symptom relief in mind. Someone with Rubella should stay clear of others in their household.  It will be important to maintain a heightened sense of hygiene in order to prevent the infection from spreading.

An MMR vaccine (administered to toddlers at 12 to 15 months) protects against measles, mumps and rubella. This vaccination requires a second dose that needs to be given to children between at age 4 to 6 (right before first grade).

Rubella Prevention

The best prevention for rubella is the rubella vaccine, which will immunize you against the disease. It is administered in a vaccine called MMR, which stands for measles, mumps and rubella and protects against all three of these diseases.

Children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine to be immunized. The first is given between the age of 12 and 15 months old, and the second between the ages of four and six years old.

Adults who did not receive the MMR vaccine as a child – usually because they were born before 1957 when the vaccine was first introduced – should still receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Those who are unsure if they’re immune can consult their vaccination records or request a blood test from their doctor to learn if they’re immune. People who haven’t had the vaccine but have had rubella in the past are immune to reinfections of the virus. Anyone who is unsure if they’re immune can simply have the MMR vaccine to ensure they’re protected, as it can do no harm to those already immune to rubella.

It’s particularly important for women to check whether they’re immune to rubella before having children. If rubella is contracted in the first trimester of pregnancy, the baby will be at a high risk of suffering birth defects. It is vital to be immunized before becoming pregnant, and women should wait until a blood test confirms their immunity before trying to get pregnant.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
April 10, 2019