Rubella is a viral infection caused by the rubella virus that mainly affects the skin and lymph nodes. Rubella is also known as German Measles and three-day Measles. It is a serious disease when it infects pregnant women.
What are the symptoms of Rubella?
It takes between two and three weeks for symptoms to develop after someone has been exposed to Rubella. Rubella infection begins with a mild fever and swollen, tender lymph nodes in the back of the neck. A rash of pink spots starts on the face and spreads downwards over the body. The rash can be itchy and usually lasts for three days.
People who have Rubella are most contagious from a week before until a week after their rash appears. Someone who is infected but has no symptoms can still spread the virus.
In children, Rubella is usually a mild disease, but teens and adults with Rubella may have headaches, sore eyes, a runny nose, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes in other parts of their body as well as their neck.
Rubella is a serious medical concern when it infects a pregnant woman. The virus can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Children with CRS are at risk for a range of cognitive and physical abnormalities. If you are pregnant and have been exposed to Rubella, you should contact your obstetrician immediately.
How can I get Rubella?
Rubella is highly contagious. You can get Rubella if you breathe in the respiratory droplets from an infected person, for example when they cough, sneeze, or laugh, or if you accidentally transfer viruses from these droplets to your nose, mouth, or eyes. In Canada, most Rubella infections appear in young adults who have not been immunized.
Infants who have congenital Rubella Syndrome can shed the virus in their urine and fluid the in their nose and throat secretions for a year or more, potentially transmitting pass the virus to people who have not been immunized.
Where can I get Rubella?
Rubella occurs worldwide. However, during the last decade, Rubella vaccination programs have greatly reduced incidence rates of Rubella in industrialized countries. In Canada, outbreaks are restricted to clusters of people who have not been immunized. There are fewer than 30 cases of Rubella reported in Canada each year.
In countries without Rubella vaccination programs, epidemics occur every four to eight years.
If you are a female in your teens or childbearing years, immunization is especially important for you. Your travel medicine specialist will assess your need for Rubella vaccination based on your health status, immunization history, and travel itinerary.
What vaccines are available for Rubella?
Since 1983, children born in Canada have received the Rubella vaccine as part of the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) immunization. If you have not been immunized for Rubella, you should consider vaccination if you are:
- Planning to travel to rubella-endemic areas.
- A women of childbearing age who is not pregnant.
- A health care or childcare worker.
If you are pregnant you should not get the vaccine. This is because it contains a weakened version of live rubella virus which could pose a risk of CRS to your unborn child. You should avoid anyone who has Rubella and get vaccinated after your child is born.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant and don’t know if you’ve been immunized, you can get a blood test from your doctor that checks for Rubella antibodies. If you’re not immune, you should get vaccinated at least one month before you become pregnant.
How many shots will I need?
In British Columbia, it is recommended that people born after 1956 get two doses of the vaccine. This is especially important for travelers and health care workers.
Will I need a booster?
You need a Rubella booster unless you:
- Previously received two doses of a Rubella-containing vaccine, or
- Have laboratory evidence of your immunity, or
- Were born before 1957.
How can I prevent Rubella?
Immunization is the most effective way of preventing Rubella infection.
What is the treatment for Rubella?
Rubella is usually a mild illness with few or no complications. The rash normally disappears in three days, although lymph nodes may be swollen for a week or more, and joint pain can last for two weeks. Children usually recover within a week, but adults may take longer.
People who have Rubella should stay at home while they have symptoms and for at least a week after the symptoms disappear to avoid infecting other people.