Rubella, also known as German measles, is a viral infection that can cause mild to moderate discomfort. It’s significance is not it’s effects on children or adults, but it’s potential effects on pregnant women – more specifically, rubella infections in pregnant women is known to have harmful effects on the unborn child (see our HEALTHguide, Rubella and Pregnancy).
Rubella often occurs in late winter and early spring and may present with few or no symptoms. In most people, however, a rubella infection usually means a few days of discomfort with flu-like symptoms. The characteristic symptoms of rubella follow in the next section.
Rubella may present with mild symptoms but sometimes moderate discomfort may result. Adults and children both contract rubella, but children tend to suffer less symptoms and as much as 30-50% of all infected children are asymptomatic (no symptoms). Common symptoms are:
- a rash – predominantly on the face and neck, then spreading from head to toe. This itchy rash can last for about 2-3 days.
- a fever – between 38-39 º Celcius, lasting for about 2 days.
- a general flu-like symptoms – headaches, runny nose, reddened eyes, joint aches.
- swollen lymph nodes – at the back of the head (behind the ears) and neck.
More severe symptoms include:
- joint discomfort from temporary arthritis – which seems to be more common in women and more often seen in adults than children.
- encephalitis – or swelling of the brain – this is rare and happens in adults.
- problems with blood clotting – seen more commonly in children.
How Infectious Is Rubella?
The rubella virus is spread by contact with discharge from the mouth and nose. Coughing, sneezing and talking will spread the virus. The incubation period of the virus (how long it stays in the body before resulting in symptoms) is about 12-23 days, and in most people symptoms seem to come on at about 16-18 days post infection.
Rubella is most infectious during the rash phase, but studies have shown that a patient may be infectious up to one week BEFORE the rash appears and as much as 5-7 days AFTER the rash disappears. Infants with congenital rubella syndrome (see Rubella and Pregnancy on our HEALTHguide), that is having contracted rubella from the mother, may be infectious for as much as one year after birth! This means that their carers may be susceptible to a rubella infection.
How Do I Prevent From Getting Rubella
Apart from the obvious measure to limiting contact with someone with rubella, vaccination is a common and effective means of preventing infection. The MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine can be given to prevent infection at a later stage. This is especially important for women in their childbearing years as rubella can have devastating effects on the unborn child (see Rubella and Pregnancy and Rubella and Vaccination on our HEALTHguide).
In a community sense, maintaining a high level of immunisation amongst members of the community prevents the spread of the disease. Some communities have mass vaccination programs in place and children are usually vaccinated on or after their first birthday. Children infected by rubella and displaying the characteristic symptoms should be kept away from school for 2-3 weeks.
See your doctor for more information on obtaining the rubella vaccine for yourself or your children.