What is rubella? — Rubella is an infection that causes a red rash on the face and body (picture 1). It is caused by infection with the rubella virus. Other names for rubella are “German measles” and “3-day measles.”
Rubella used to be much more common than it is now. Now, there is a vaccine (a shot) that helps keep people from getting infected. The vaccine is called the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It protects against all 3 infections. (There is also a combination vaccine that includes vaccines against those 3 infections plus a vaccine against the virus that causes chickenpox, called varicella.)
Rubella can be very dangerous for unborn babies. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, her baby could die or be born too early. Or, the baby could have serious birth defects. These include:
●Life-long learning problems
●Being too small for his or her age
The baby is more likely to have problems if a woman gets rubella in the first half of pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of rubella? — The symptoms of rubella are usually mild. They are different for children and adults.
In children, the most common symptoms include:
●A rash – This usually starts on the face. It spreads to the rest of the body in about 24 hours. A rubella rash usually goes away in about 3 days. But it can last as long as 8 days. Some children have red, irritated eyes, a rash in the mouth, or both.
Adults who get rubella can have:
●A rash, fever, and swollen glands – These can be like the symptoms in children.
●A sick feeling, like with the flu
●Pain in the joints – This is often in the knees, wrists, and fingers. Pain in the joints is more common in teenagers and women than in adult men. The joint pain can last a month or longer, even after the rash goes away.
●Red, irritated eyes
●Pain and swelling in the testicles (in men)
Adults often feel sicker from rubella than children do.
How does rubella spread? — If you have not had rubella or the rubella vaccine, you can catch rubella by being close to someone who is infected. For example, you might catch it from touching the person or a lot of things he or she touches. Most people in the United States have had the rubella vaccine, but some people have not.
If you or your child has rubella, you can help keep it from spreading. You should:
●Stay home or keep your child home for 7 days after the rash starts.
●Wash your hands often, or use an alcohol hand rub.
Is there a test for rubella? — Yes. Doctors can do a blood test to look for the rubella virus. But most people don’t need it. A doctor or nurse can usually tell if someone has rubella by doing an exam and learning about the symptoms.
If the doctor or nurse thinks a baby was born with rubella, he or she will do a blood test to check. In a child or adult, a blood test might help if doctors are not sure rubella is the cause of symptoms. If you are pregnant and think you might have rubella, you can get a blood test to find out.
How is rubella treated? — There is no treatment for rubella. Most people get better on their own with no problems.
You or your child can take over-the counter medicines to help with symptoms, such as fever. But you must NEVER give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years old. In children, aspirin can cause a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome.
Can rubella be prevented? — Yes. The rubella vaccine prevents infection.
All children should get the rubella vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old. Then they should get a second shot when they are 4 to 6 years old. All children should have the second shot before starting school.
Adults who did not get the rubella vaccine as children should get at least one shot. This is very important for women who plan to get pregnant.
Women cannot get the rubella vaccine when they are pregnant. Because rubella is dangerous to unborn babies, it is important for everyone to get the vaccine. This lowers the risk that a pregnant woman will get rubella.
In certain people, the rubella vaccine is not safe. This includes people who have trouble fighting infection because they:
●Are being treated for cancer
●Got an organ transplant (such as a liver or kidney transplant) and take medicines keep their body from rejecting the organ
●Were born with a condition that keeps them from fighting infection well
What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to get pregnant, be sure your rubella vaccine is up to date. This means knowing if you got the rubella vaccine in the past. If you are not sure, your doctor or nurse can do a blood test to check.
The rubella vaccine must be given before pregnancy. After you get it, wait at least 4 weeks before you try to get pregnant.