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Alternate Names

  • German measles
  • three-day measles


Rubella, or German measles, is a viral infection characterized by a rash.

What is going on in the body?

The rubella virus is spread when uninfected people come in contact with secretions from infected persons. Most frequently, this is due to exposure to droplets from coughs and sneezes and mucous from the nose. Rubella can also be passed from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy.


What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The rubella virus causes this infection. The main risks of this infection are related to brain involvement or infections in the unborn child. Either of these cases may result in permanent brain damage or death. Infections in a fetus may cause multiple severe defects in the newborn.


What can be done to prevent the infection?

The rubella vaccine is extremely effective at preventing this infection.
In children, the vaccine is usually combined with the measles and mumps vaccine and given as one shot, which is called the MMR vaccine.
Women of childbearing age who are not pregnant should make sure they have received this vaccine.
Possible side effects of the MMR vaccine include:
  • fever and rash, which may occur 1 to 2 weeks after the vaccine
  • joint pain
  • minor allergic reactions
Other side effects are rare. The vaccine should not be given to pregnant women or to women who are planning on getting pregnant in the 3 months after the shot.
Isolating an infected person can also help prevent spread of this infection. An infected person should stay home from school or work for 7 days after the rash appears. Infants exposed to the virus prior to their birth may be contagious for more than a year after birth. Special care should be taken to keep them away from people who haven't received the vaccine.


How is the infection diagnosed?

This infection is usually diagnosed by testing for proteins in the blood called antibodies specific for the rubella virus. Antibodies are made by the body to fight germs and other foreign substances.
The virus can also be isolated from infected lung, throat, or nose secretions. In some cases, the healthcare professional may recognize the rash and not need to do any further tests.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

The main concern with rubella is its impact on a pregnant woman and her unborn child. If a woman is affected in the first three months of pregnancy, the chances that the baby will develop problems can be very high.
Infections in an unborn child may result in blindness, deafness, heart defects and mental retardation. Any pregnant woman who has not received the rubella vaccine and is exposed to the virus should consult with her healthcare professional. Most others with this infection recover fully and have no long-term effects.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Rubella can be spread to other people. A woman also can pass the virus to her unborn child during pregnancy.


What are the treatments for the infection?

Home treatment, if needed, may include over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol), for fever or joint pain. However, children should not take aspirin when they have rubella, because it can cause a severe brain inflammation called Reye's syndrome. There are no antibiotics available for this infection.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Over-the-counter drugs , like all drugs, have possible side effects. Drugs used for fever and pain may cause allergic reactions, stomach upset, and other side effects. Specific side effects depend on the drugs used.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the infection?

People generally get better within a week. They can return to normal activities one week after the rash appears. Pregnant women who become infected should consult with their healthcare professional.


How is the infection monitored?

Most people can monitor the infection at home, as it is usually mild. Pregnant women may be advised to have repeat ultrasounds. An ultrasound is a special x-ray test that uses sound waves. It allows the unborn child to be seen inside the mother's womb. This may allow early detection of birth defects

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