Rubella

Rubella, also called German measles, is a contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash. The virus can spread to others through coughing and sneezing

While the disease is usually mild in children and adults, rubella can be very dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. If a pregnant women is infected with the disease it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and/or birth defects such as heart problems, hearing and vision loss, intellectual disabilities (also known as mental retardation), and liver or spleen damage. This group of health problems is called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).

Before the rubella vaccine was introduced in 1969, widespread outbreaks usually occurred every 6 to 9 years in the U.S. Between 1962 and 1965, rubella infections during pregnancy were estimated to have caused 30,000 stillbirths and 20,000 children to be born impaired or disabled.

Symptoms

The symptoms of rubella are often so mild they’re difficult to notice, especially in children. If symptoms do occur, they generally appear two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and last two to three days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Mild fever of less than 101 degrees
  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Inflamed, red eyes
  • Enlarged, tender lymph nodes
  • A fine, pink rash that begins on the face and quickly spreads to the trunk and then the arms and legs, before disappearing in the same sequence
  • Aching joints (especially in young women)

Prevention

For the best protection against rubella, your children need to receive the two recommended doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Doses are given between 12 and 15 months and between 4 and 6 years of age. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

In addition, women thinking about becoming pregnant may need to be vaccinated against rubella if they are not already immune. For more information, please visit the Pregnant Women section of this website and talk to your healthcare provider.

In 2004, the CDC announced that both the congenital and acquired forms of rubella had been eliminated in the U.S. The U.S. continues to vaccinate to prevent the possibility of rubella being imported from countries where it is still common.