Rubella, also called German measles or three-day measles, is a contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash.

Rubella is not the same as measles (rubeola), though the two illnesses do share some characteristics, including the red rash. However, rubella is caused by a different virus than measles and is neither as infectious nor usually as severe as measles.

The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, usually given to children in the United States twice before they reach school age, is highly effective in preventing rubella. Because of widespread use of the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared rubella eliminated in the United States, but cautions parents to make sure their children are vaccinated to prevent its reemergence.

Symptoms Causes Complications Prevention

The signs and symptoms of rubella are often so mild that they're difficult to notice, especially in children. If signs and symptoms do occur, they generally appear between two and three weeks after exposure to the virus. They typically last about two to three days and may include:

  • Mild fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or lower
  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Inflamed, red eyes
  • Enlarged, tender lymph nodes at the base of the skull, the back of the neck and behind the ears
  • A fine, pink rash that begins on the face and quickly spreads to the trunk and then the arms and legs, before disappearing in the same sequence
  • Aching joints, especially in young women

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if you think you or your child may have been exposed to rubella or if you have the symptoms listed above.

If you're contemplating getting pregnant, check your vaccination record to make sure you've received your MMR inoculations. If a pregnant woman contracts rubella, especially during her first trimester, the virus can cause death or serious birth defects in her developing fetus. Rubella during pregnancy is the most common cause of congenital deafness. It's best for women to be protected against rubella before pregnancy.

If you're pregnant, you'll likely undergo a routine screening for immunity to rubella. But if you've never received the vaccine and think you might have been exposed to rubella, contact your doctor immediately. A blood test might confirm that you're already immune and unlikely to develop rubella.

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