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Rubella (German Measles)

What is rubella?

Rubella is a viral disease that causes fever, rash and swollen glands. Illness is usually mild, but if a woman gets rubella during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects in her unborn child. Rubella is more common in winter and spring.

Who gets rubella?

A person can get rubella at any age. In the United States, cases of rubella occur in several age groups. From 1980 to 1993, 30% of cases occurred in each of 3 age groups: children less than 5 years old, school-aged children from 5-19 years old, and young adults between 20-39 years old. Less than 10% of cases occurred in people over 40 years old. In 1998, a rubella outbreak occurred in New York City. Most of the cases were in people who were recent immigrants.

How is rubella spread?

Rubella is spread by direct contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person or by airborne droplets.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Between 30-50% of people infected with rubella do not have any symptoms.Early symptoms often include fever, body aches, swollen glands, cough and runny nose. A rash develops on the face and then spreads over the entire body from head to foot. The rash lasts about 3 days. Joint aches are very common in adult patients.

How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms appear between 12-23 days after infection.

When and for how long is a person able to spread rubella?

Rubella can usually be spread from 7 days before until 7 days after the rash appears. Infants infected with rubella while their mother was pregnant can spread the virus for up to one year after their birth.

Does past infection make a person immune?

Yes. Infection produces lifelong immunity.

What is the vaccine for rubella?

Children should be vaccinated against rubella on or after their first birthday. Rubella vaccine is usually given as MMR (the measles, mumps, rubella combination vaccine). MMR is preferred because it provides protection against all three diseases.

What can be the effect of not being immunized against rubella?

Rubella infection is dangerous when a pregnant woman gets infected because the virus can spread to her unborn baby. Infection of the unborn child can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or an infant with birth defects which can include deafness, cataracts, heart defects, liver or spleen damage, and mental retardation. Up to 85% of infants infected during the first trimester of their mother's pregnancy will be affected in some way. Birth defects are rare in infants after the 20th week of their mother's pregnancy.

What can be done to prevent the spread of rubella?

The single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible vaccination levels in the community by routinely vaccinating children on or after their first birthday. Women of childbearing age should make sure they are immune to rubella through a blood test. They should receive a rubella vaccine before they become pregnant if they are not immune to rubella.

For more information on where your child can be vaccinated, call 311.