Definition and Overview

Rubella is a mild viral infection. It can spread through coughing or sneezing. It is not a cause for concern for people who are otherwise healthy. In fact, many cases go unnoticed because the symptoms are either mild or absent. However, it can be very dangerous for pregnant women. It increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. It can also cause serious birth defects to the unborn foetus. These include deafness and cataracts as well as mental retardation and heart disease.

Rubella is not the same as measles. Also known as rubeola, measles is a respiratory infection. When compared to rubella, its symptoms are more severe and longer lasting.

Rubella can affect any person of any age. But it is more common in children and young adults. It is rare in very young infants and people older than 40 years old. It causes a red rash to appear all over the body. The rash can be very itchy but is less bright than the rash caused by measles. The rash starts on the face and then moves to the trunk and limbs. It can then cover the whole body within 24 hours. It goes away on its own after three days. Because of this, rubella is also called the three-day measles.

Causes of Condition

The rubella virus causes the illness. An infected person can cough or sneeze droplets that contain the virus. Other people can catch the virus if they inhale the droplets.

A person with the illness is contagious even before the symptoms appear and after the symptoms are gone. Its incubation period can be up to 25 days. It was once a common illness, affecting millions of children and young adults worldwide. However, when the MMR vaccine became available in 1969, the number of cases has gone down substantially. The illness is now very rare in many developed countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom. However, it still exists in many developing nations. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are about 100,000 recorded cases that affect pregnant women worldwide every year.

Key Symptoms

Most patients do not have symptoms. In fact, many of them are not even aware that they have or had the illness. Others, on the other hand, get a red rash that starts on the face. The rash then covers the whole body within 24 hours. Other symptoms include a low-fever as well as swollen glands in the neck and around the ears. Some patients also have joint pain. The symptoms resolve within three days. Most patients recover without lasting health problems.

The effects of the illness on pregnant women can be devastating. It can cause miscarriages. It can also lead to a number of serious birth defects. The complications are worse if rubella occurs within the first three months of pregnancy. The risks of birth defects and miscarriages are reduced if the illness occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

For these reasons, it is important for all women to ensure that they get vaccinated at least a couple of months before they get pregnant. If they are already pregnant and lack immunity, they must avoid close contact with anyone who has the virus until they have given birth.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Rubella is diagnosed by visual examination and blood tests that can detect different types of rubella antibodies in the blood.

Many patients do not require any form of treatment. The symptoms can resolve on their own after three days. However, patients may be given medications for fever and body pain. They are also advised to stay home to prevent the disease from spreading. If not possible, they must wear a mask at all times. Family doctors also advise parents to call instead of taking their children to the clinic or hospital if rubella is suspected. People in the hospital with a weak immune system can easily catch the illness when exposed to a person who has it.

Pregnant women, on the other hand, are given hyperimmune globulin. This is an antibody that fights the infection. However, it cannot stop the virus from harming the unborn child. It cannot also reduce the risk of birth defects and miscarriages. If the illness occurs during the first trimester, pregnant patients are counselled about its possible effects on their unborn child. In many countries, patients are given the option to get an abortion if there is a clinical evidence of the illness within the first 16 weeks of conception.

Because the illness can have devastating effects on unborn children, it is important for pregnant women to ensure that they have immunity. Young girls must be given the MMR vaccine. This protects against rubella as well as mumps and measles. Children should be given two doses of this vaccine. The first dose should be given after they turned one year old (between 12 and 15 months). The second dose can be given between four and six years of age. MMR vaccine is 97% effective in preventing rubella. It is also safe and does not have any side effects.


  • Rubella: Make sure your child gets vaccinated. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Brunette GW. Rubella. In: CDC Health Information for International Travel 2014: The Yellow Book. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press; 2014.

  • Brunette GW. Measles (rubeola). In: CDC Health Information for International Travel 2014: The Yellow Book. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press; 2014.

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