Rubella (German measles)

Rubella (German measles)

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What is rubella?

Rubella is a contagious disease (or infection) caused by a virus.

Although in most cases rubella is mild, infection in early pregnancy can cause serious birth defects or miscarriage. Rubella is now a rare disease in Australia because of high levels of immunisation.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of rubella may include:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Runny nose.
  • Conjunctivitis.
  • Rash.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Joint pain (more often in adult women).
  • It is rare but bleeding (haemorrhage) and brain infections (encephalitis) can occur.
  • If a pregnant women catches rubella in the first trimester (before 13 weeks) the baby has a high chance of developing complications. These complications include: being born early (premature), heart problems, deafness, eye problems, spleen problems, brain infection (encephalitis) and developmental delays.
  • Once a woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks, the chance of complications is much less and the baby is unlikely to be affected.
  • Up to half of the people who catch rubella do not have any symptoms.

How is it spread?

Rubella is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing and by contact with hands or tissues.

The time from contact with rubella to getting sick (incubation period) is 14-21days. Someone with rubella is infectious from seven days before until four days after the rash starts.

How is it diagnosed?

Rubella can be difficult to diagnose because there are many other viruses that cause similar illnesses with a fever and a rash.  A blood test will confirm if you have rubella.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the symptoms. People with mild symptoms may need:

  • Rest.
  • Fluids.
  • Paracetamol to reduce fever and discomfort.

People with severe infections may need quick treatment and to go to hospital.

How is it prevented?

Immunisation is the best way to prevent rubella. Vaccines are given by doctors and some local councils.

It is important that as many people as possible are immune to rubella. This is to prevent pregnant women from catching rubella and passing it on to their unborn babies.

Who should get immunised?

Infants and children. Rubella vaccine is recommended and available free for all children at 12 months and 18 months old. The first of the two doses is a combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The second dose is a combined with measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox (MMRV) vaccine. 

Babies less than 12 months old. In special circumstances rubella vaccine can be given from nine months old and needs to be repeated at 12 and 18 months old.

Adults and adolescents. Two doses of rubella vaccine is recommended for all adults and adolescents who are not immune. All people who have been born since the start of 1966 should have had either two doses of vaccine (recorded in writing) or a blood test that shows they are immune. Most important are:

  • Healthcare workers.
  • People who work with children.
  • Women of child-bearing age (including women who have just had a baby).
  • People who have had rubella still need to be vaccinated to be protected from catching the disease again.

What should I do if I have had contact with someone who has rubella?

If you are pregnant speak to your GP or obstetric care providers as soon as possible. It is important to know if you are protected (immune) from rubella. The blood sample that tests for immunity is recommended to every woman in early pregnancy.

If you are not pregnant and have had contact with someone diagnosed with rubella, you should be alert for symptoms and go to your doctor if any develop. It is important to know if you have received two doses of vaccine. You should also stay away from any pregnant women who are not sure if they are immune to rubella.

What should I do if I rubella?

If you think you have rubella seek medical advice from your doctor or for severe symptoms, seek help from a hospital emergency department or ambulance.

Stay away from work, school, childcare and pregnant women for at least four days from when the rash first appears.

Call the Public Health Hotline – Tasmania on 1800 671 738 to speak to a clinical nurse consultant.

12 October 2015