What is rubella?


Rubella (German measles): Overview

Rubella, also called German measles or 3-day measles, is a disease caused by a virus. It spreads by coughs, sneezes, and close contact. Rubella usually is mild and does not cause long-term problems. But if you are pregnant and get it, you can give the disease to your unborn baby. This can cause serious birth defects.

While you have rubella, you may get a rash and a mild fever, and the lymph glands in your neck may swell. Older children often have a fever, eye pain, a sore throat, and body aches. You can relieve most symptoms with care at home. Avoid being around others, especially pregnant people, until your rash has been gone for at least 4 days. People who have not had this disease before or have not had the vaccine have the greatest chance of getting the virus.


Rubella, also called German measles, is a contagious infection caused by a virus. It usually causes a mild illness with a fine, red rash over most of the body, swollen glands, and low fever.

Rubella is not common in the United States because most children are vaccinated (immunized) against it. Most people who get rubella are young adults who have not been vaccinated. A person can develop immunity to rubella by having the disease or being vaccinated.

Rubella is a mild illness in adults. But if a person gets rubella during pregnancy, the baby is at risk for birth defects, such as heart defects, deafness, and cataracts. The illness can also result in miscarriage or stillbirth. The earlier the infection occurs in a pregnancy, the greater the risk that the baby will have severe defects. People who are not immune to rubella should be vaccinated before becoming pregnant.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Symptoms of rubella may include a fever and swollen glands (lymph nodes), especially behind the ear and at the back of the head. You may also have a mild rash that starts on the face and spreads to the neck, the chest, and the rest of the body. Some people don't have symptoms.

How is rubella treated?

Rubella usually gets better with home care. But if you're pregnant and you're exposed to the virus, your doctor may give you a shot of immunoglobulin (IG). IG doesn't prevent infection, but it may make symptoms less severe. It also lowers the chance of birth defects, although it doesn't always prevent them.

What can you do to prevent rubella?

The rubella vaccine protects against the illness. The vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots.

If you are planning to become pregnant and don't know if you're immune to rubella, get a blood test to find out. If you're not immune, you can safely get the rubella vaccine up to 1 month before you become pregnant. If you're not immune and didn't get the vaccine before you became pregnant, take extra care to avoid contact with the virus. Avoid the saliva of babies and young children, and wash your hands often.

How is rubella diagnosed?

A blood test can help your doctor find out if a recent infection you've had was caused by the rubella virus. The test also shows if you have been immunized against rubella or are immune to the virus.

How can you care for yourself when you have rubella (German measles)?

Rubella usually gets better with rest and care at home. You can take medicine to lower fever, if needed. Also, drink plenty of fluids. Don't scratch the rash. Instead, put cold, wet cloths on it to reduce itching. Try to avoid contact with people who have never had rubella and who haven't been immunized.

How is rubella spread?

The rubella virus most often is spread through droplets of fluid from the mouth, nose, or eyes of someone who has the infection. A person who has the infection can spread these droplets by coughing, sneezing, talking, or sharing food or drinks. You can get infected by touching something that has the droplets on it and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands.

If you have rubella, you are most likely to spread it a few days before the rash starts until 5 to 7 days after the rash first appears. But you can spread the virus even if you don't have any symptoms.

If you've had rubella, it is very unlikely that you will get it again.

What is rubella?

Rubella is a very contagious (easily spread) illness caused by the rubella virus. It's usually mild. But in rare cases, it may cause more serious problems. If you're pregnant and get infected with the rubella virus, your baby could become infected too. This can cause birth defects. Rubella also is called German measles.

Rubella (German measles): When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • You are sensitive to light or feel very sleepy or confused.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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