Rubella (German Measles)

Rubella, also known as German measles, is an infectious disease caused by the rubella virus. The virus passes from person-to-person via droplets in the air expelled when infected people cough or sneeze - the virus may also be present in the urine, feces and on the skin. The hallmark symptoms of rubella are an elevated body temperature and a pink rash.

Although rubella can infect people of all ages, it most commonly affects young children. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Rubella there is a serious risk of birth defects in the unborn baby. If the pregnant mother is infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy the child may be born with congenital rubella syndrome, which consists of a range of serious incurable illnesses. About one-fifth of infected pregnant women will miscarry.

The name "rubella" comes from the Latin word rubellameaning "little red". As the disease was first described by German doctors in the mid-eighteenth century, it is also known as German measles.

Rubella is usually mild and frequently passes unnoticed. The disease can last from one to three days. Children usually recover faster than adults.

The majority of people have no symptoms when they are infected with rubella. This is called a subclinical infection. If symptoms do develop, they include the following:

  • Swollen glands, usually behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Sometimes glands in other parts of the body swell. The glands gradually go back to normal over a week or so.
  • A spotty, pink-red rash develops any time up to seven days after the glands swell. The rash usually starts behind the ears, then spreads to the face and neck and then spreads to the rest of the body. The rash lasts 3-5 days before fading.
  • A mild fever, cold, cough and sore throat are common.
  • Sore red eyes (conjunctivitis) may develop for a few days.
  • Joint pains, like a mild arthritis, may develop for a week or so. This is less common in children, but is quite common in adults with rubella.
  • Other symptoms may include fever, tiredness and headache.