Rubella, or German measles, is an infection caused by the rubella virus. Symptoms are often mild, but if infection occurs during pregnancy, it can cause severe harm to the unborn child, including deafness.
Rubella is a preventable disease. Since 1969, vaccination programs have led to a dramatic fall in the number of cases, and it was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004.
However, it is important to continue vaccinating as rubella can enter the U.S. from other countries.
Between 25 and 50 percent of those who have rubella do not notice that they have it. This means that a person can come into contact with rubella and become infected without realizing it.
However, if infection occurs during early pregnancy, it can cause congenital rubella syndrome, and this can have a long-term impact on the fetus.
This article will look at the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of rubella.
Fast facts about rubella, or German measles
Rubella is viral and predominantly transmitted by coughs.
The virus can pass across the placenta and affect the fetus.
In around half of rubella cases there are very few symptoms, but symptoms include a rash, a runny nose, a headache, and fever.
During pregnancy, rubella can cause congenital rubella syndrome, a leading cause of deafness, in the unborn child.
Vaccination is the only way to prevent the disease.
If rubella produces a rash, it will be pale pink and less red than measles.
Rubella means “little red” and the disease features a red rash, “rubella” is Latin for “little red.”
Symptoms normally appear 14 to 21 days after infection.
The rash often starts on the face and moves to the trunk and limbs. After 3 to 5 days, it fades and disappears. It can be itchy.
Other symptoms include:
a stuffy or runny nose
a mild fever
red, inflamed eyes
enlarged and tender lymph nodes
Though infection can happen at any age, Rubella rarely affects young infants or people over 40 years. A person who is infected with rubella at an older age will normally have more severe symptoms.
No medications can shorten the rubella infection, and symptoms are usually mild enough that no treatment is necessary.
Bed rest and acetaminophen may help relieve any symptoms.
If a woman contracts the virus during pregnancy, hyperimmune globulin may be prescribed to help fight off the virus and reduce the chance of congenital rubella syndrome.
A person with a rubella infection should avoid coming into contact with anyone who may be pregnant and anyone who has a weakened immune system until 1 week after the rash appears.
If a child has rubella, their school should be informed.
Understanding the causes of measles
Find out more about measles
Rubella is very dangerous during pregnancy, especially if infection occurs during the first 12 weeks, which is the first trimester. At this stage, there is a 90 percent chance of passing the virus on to the fetus.
While infection is rare in the U.S., the risk increases with international travel.
It is important to be vaccinated against rubella before becoming pregnant.
The vaccine cannot be given during pregnancy, as it uses a weakened, live virus.
Anyone who is pregnant and may have been exposed to the virus should see a doctor immediately.
Congenital rubella syndrome
The rubella virus can pass through the placenta and move through the fetal circulation. It can destroy cells or prevent them from dividing. This causes congenital rubella syndrome.
If a woman believe she may have been in contact with rubella during pregnancy, she should see a doctor.
Congenital rubella syndrome occurs when a pregnant woman contracts the rubella virus, and it passes through the placenta to the unborn child.