Rubella is a viral infection characterised by a red rash which is also called German measles. It looks a lot like measles, but it’s not the same illness. We’ve all but eliminated rubella here in New Zealand and other developed countries because we regularly vaccinate our kids.
What causes rubella?
Rubella is caused by a virus. The virus that causes it is contagious and is spread through contact with people who already have the virus. If someone you know has rubella, you can catch it from them if you are not already immune, it usually takes 16-18days before you get sick.
Is rubella serious?
Rubella is generally not serious except for pregnant women. If a pregnant woman catches rubella, her baby can be in danger. Unborn babies of mothers who catch rubella can suffer from birth defects or even death. In rare cases, rubella can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Can I prevent rubella?
The MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine is given to children to prevent them from getting the virus that causes rubella. The vaccine is given at 15 months, and again at four years. People who have rubella are contagious for about a week before the rash appears and for several days after the rash is visible, so keep your child at home during this time to prevent infecting others.
How do I know if my child has rubella?
You may not know that your child has rubella because it looks like any other rash. Your doctor can perform a test to confirm that he has it. It may take up to three weeks after your child has been exposed to rubella for him to start showing symptoms. If your child has a mild case of rubella, he might experience:
- Sore throat
- Aching joints
- Runny nose
- A rash that starts on his face and quickly spreads to the torso, then the arms and legs. The rash goes away in the same order that it appeared.
More serious cases of rubella may include:
How do I treat rubella?
The best way to treat rubella is by getting lots of bed rest and plenty of fluids. Your child will probably feel achy and miserable, so give him paracetamol for fever and for aches and pains.
It is serious when a pregnant woman gets rubella. Her baby can be born ‘congenital rubella syndrome’ which may result in retardation, heart defects, deafness, and even death. Women who get the virus may need special treatment in a hospital.
Should I call the doctor?
Always call the doctor if you or your child has been exposed to rubella. Health agencies need to be notified about outbreaks so that they can prevent the spread of the virus. Pregnant women may need special treatment to help prevent serious illnesses in their unborn child.
What you need to know about rubella
- Rubella is also called German measles.
- Rubella is contagious but can be prevented through vaccinations.
- Rubella is dangerous to unborn babies.
- Always call the doctor if you suspect that you or your child has been exposed to rubella.
Find more relevant articles and information about rubella
- Find out more about viral infections
- Learn more about measles
- Learn more about mumps
- Read more about ear infections
- Read more about encephalitis
- What are the best ways to measure a child's temperature?
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Ministry of Health NZ, Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Thursday, 23 October 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.