Rubella – More dangerous than you might think


In the recent series of articles, we took a closer look at chicken pox and measles, common diseases that spread among kids as well as adults in spring and summer. The next one in this series will focus on another classical children’s illness - the Rubella virus.

What is Rubella?

Rubella, also called German measles or three-day measles is a disease caused by the Rubella virus. The infection is often mild and with half of the people not even realizing that they are sick, because of the symptoms’ similarities to a common cold or flu. Most common symptom for the disease is the red rash, which affect 50% of the patients.

How is Rubella caused and spread?

Rubella is caused by the Rubella virus which belong the family of Togaviruses. The name of the disease originated from the Latin language and means “little red”, because of the red rash that occurs around two weeks after the infection and usually lasts for 3 days. The virus belongs to the category of airborne diseases and is spread through the air by the infected, who is infectious one week before and one week after the red rash.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Rubella can be symptomized as follows:

  • Low grade fever

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Joint pains

  • Headache

  • Conjunctivitis

  • Pink or light red rash which begins in the face and spread throughout the body

Adults can suffer more serious problems like

  • Brain infections

  • Birth defects

  • Heart defects

  • Loss of hearing

  • Cataracts

The ordinary period of illness of Rubella lies between two to three weeks with an incubation period of 14 – 21 days. Once infected, the affected person possesses a life-long immunity to the virus.

Congenital Rubella syndrome (CRS)

While Rubella is considered to be mostly harmless for children, it has a huge impact on pregnant women and can cause serious birth defects on new-borns like cardiac, cerebral or auditory defects. The risk of major effects are highest in the first thirteen weeks of pregnancy, while affections after the 20Th week are rare. Therefore it is of enormous importance for pregnant women to check if their immunity against Rubella is still active. A vaccination during pregnancy is not possible. Once infected the chance of affecting the new-born is around 43%. CRS was the main reason for the development of a vaccination against Rubella.

How can Rubella be treated?

There is no special treatment for Rubella available and usually the disease fades by itself. Medication is symptomatic but it is indispensable to consult a doctor beforehand. Defects caused by CRM can be corrected by direct surgery.

How can rubella be prevented?

To prevent pandemics from breakout and people from suffering the consequences of the rubella virus, an immunization vaccine can be used which consist of disabled viruses. The vaccine for Rubella is usually given in combination with measles and mumps. The world health organization (WHO) recommends to give the first dose at the age of 12 to 18 months with a second dose after 36 months. Pregnant women will usually be tested for immunity within the early stages of their pregnancy. Rubella is a disease that occurs worldwide, but due to vaccine efforts it was declared eradicated in the Americas by the WHO in April 2015.

Are you afraid of getting affected by the Rubella virus or have you experienced it before? Do let us know, start a discussion in the Discussion Forum.




World Health Organization


Center for disease control and prevention

Gerrit E.

by Gerrit E.

A well-travelled German, always on the run to explore the meanings of life. View all articles by Gerrit E..


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