An Introduction to Rubella (German Measles)

What You Should Know About This Common Viral Infection

Rubella Virus
Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Rubella, also known as German measles or three-day measles, is a highly-contagious viral infection. While they do share similarities, such as a red rash, Rubella is not the same as measles. Rubella is passed person-to-person either through direct contact or by the air with sneezing or coughing. The incubation period for rubella is 16 to 18 days. People who have been infection with rubella are the most contagious approximately a week before the rash appears and for about a week after as well.

Symptoms of Rubella

The rubella infection may start with one to two days of a mild fever. There will be swollen, tender lymph nodes at the back of the neck and behind the ears. Eventually, the characteristic rash will begin on the face and spread downwards toward the trunk of the body. As the rash spreads to other parts of the body, it will begin to clear on the face.

As implied by its colloquial name, the rash can last for up to three days. It will also itch. As the rash clears, the skin may begin to shed in fine flakes.

For teenagers and adults, the symptoms of rubella may include:

  • Headache
  • Inflammation of the eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Swollen lymph nodes in other parts of the body
  • Joint pain and swelling

Pregnant women who have contracted rubella can cause rubella syndrome in their unborn child. Children who are infected before birth are at risk for developmental disabilities including heart and eye defects, deafness, growth problems, and problems with their bone marrow, liver, and spleen.

Treatment and Prevention of Rubella Infection

Because Rubella is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with an antibiotic. Instead, the only cure is time as the virus has to work its way out of your system. To ease discomfort, over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be administered.

Do not use aspirin to treat a child with a viral illness.

While rubella cannot be cured, it can be prevented with vaccination with the rubella vaccine. It is usually given to children between 12 months to 15 months of age and a booster at 4 to 6 years of age. Rubella is a common infection in other areas of the world so, if you plan to travel outside the country, your child can be immunized as early as 6 months of age.

If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, make sure that you have immunity to rubella by having a blood test. If you are not immune, you should be vaccinated at least one month before becoming pregnant.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mayo Clinic

The Nemours Foundation

Continue Reading