RUBELLA - a patient's guide
- Rubella is caused by a virus and is sometimes known as "German
- It is generally a mild illness but is serious in pregnancy and
can cause birth defects
- The incubation period is between two and three weeks
- The illness starts with mild fever and swollen glands with a
rash a few days later
- There is no cure and rest is the best treatment
- Most people recover within one week
- Women of childbearing age should be immunised against
- Rubella vaccine is routinely given to infants aged between 12
and 15 months
What is it?
Rubella is also known as German measles and is different from
English measles in which the illness lasts longer.
Rubella is mostly a mild childhood illness. However, it is serious
if contracted during pregnancy.
Rubella can cause birth defects and miscarriage. Children infected
in the womb may be born with abnormal eyes, heart, brain, and have
liver, spleen, hearing, and bone marrow problems. It is particularly
dangerous in the first 3 months of pregnancy.
The disease is usually very mild - one quarter of those affected
have no symptoms. It lasts about one week and is spread by sneezing
The incubation period for rubella is between two and three weeks,
with an average of 18 days. People are contagious one week before the
rash appears and up to one week after it.
Before a vaccine was available in 1969 there were rubella
epidemics every six to nine years, mainly affecting children, and
infants born with congenital abnormalities.
It is now estimated about 10 percent of women of child bearing age
are at risk of rubella infection.
What are the symptoms?
It begins with two to three days of mild fever and swollen glands
found in the neck or behind the ears.
A scattered rash of small pink or light red spots appears on the
second or third day. It begins on the face and spreads down the rest
of the body. The rash doesn't itch and lasts about three days. Most
children recover within one week but adults may take longer to feel
Some people may experience other symptoms such as red eyes, a
blocked or runny nose, swollen lymph glands and aching joints.
In rare cases the disease causes inflammation of the brain.
It is important to get medical advice and make an accurate
diagnosis, as other conditions (such as meningitis) may also start as
fever with a rash.
What can be done to help?
Rest is the best treatment. There is no cure for rubella.
Paracetamol may help relieve symptoms, and drink lots of
Do not give aspirin to a child with a viral infection because this
has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a very rare but potentially fatal
illness which can cause brain swelling and liver damage.
How can it be prevented?
A vaccine is available to prevent rubella and is generally given
to children aged 12 to 15 months. However, immunisation rates are
still too low in many countries.
Women are tested for immunity against the virus in early
pregnancy. This should be repeated for each pregnancy. Women planning
pregnancy should check whether they are immune before trying to
conceive (a simple blood test can tell).
Women without immunity who are not pregnant should be vaccinated
against the virus. A woman should not get pregnant for three months
after immunisation because it's been suggested the vaccine itself
could cause birth defects.
Stay home if you are diagnosed with rubella and stay away from
anyone in the early stages of pregnancy.
Telephone the doctor before visiting to ensure there are no
pregnant patients in the waiting room.
Increasing immunisation rates with the measles, mumps and rubella
(MMR) vaccine is the key to preventing outbreaks in the future.
Your doctor can offer advice on diagnosis, and vaccination for
Pregnancy And Birth
Copyright © 2009 The Online Services Group (N.Z)