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Rubella or German measles

Rubella, also known as German measles is a mild infectious illness caused by the rubella virus. There is no connection between German measles and measles, as they are caused by different viruses.


Rubella is spread by fine droplets of moisture, which contain the virus. The droplets are produced when the infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. If another person then inhales these droplets they may become infected.


Symptoms of rubella include:

  • slight fever sometimes accompanied by a runny nose;
  • swollen glands behind the ears and around the neck;
  • loss of appetite;
  • sore throat; and
  • rash that starts on the face and then spreads to the body. This rash usually lasts about 3 days.

Rubella is contagious and will require an incubation period of 14-21 days. Rubella is most contagious before the rash appears and then for about 5 days afterwards. Clinical diagnosis is unreliable since the symptoms are often fleeting and can be caused by other viruses; in particular, the rash is not unique to rubella and may be absent. Up to 50% of rubella virus infections are subclinical or asymptomatic. A history of rubella should, therefore, not be accepted without serological evidence of previous infection. Rubella usually causes no long term complications and once you have had Rubella you will not get it again. However, the biggest danger is if a pregnant woman develops Rubella, as there is a strong possibility that the child will be born with birth defects (such as blindness or heart defects).


A vaccine for Rubella is normally given to babies between 12-15 months, combined with the vaccine for mumps and measles, known as MMR, measles-mumps-rubella. A second dose is then given before the child starts school. If you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant, you should consult your doctor to confirm that you are protected against rubella.

All healthcare staff and people working with children, born during or since 1966, including medical, nursing and other health professional students, either without vaccination records or seronegative upon screening, should receive 2 doses of MMR vaccine, both for their own protection and to avoid the risk of transmitting rubella to pregnant patients and/or colleagues.

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