What is rubella?

Rubella is also known as German measles or three-day measles, but the rubella and measles viruses are different. The rash caused by rubella is milder and does not last as long as the measles rash.

Rubella starts quickly and is very contagious. For the most part, it is a mild childhood disease. In adults, rubella is more serious, but not life-threatening. This is not true for pregnant women. If a pregnant woman becomes infected, she can spread the disease to her unborn child. This can cause a miscarriage or birth defects.

How common is rubella?

Rubella was common in the U.S. before 1970, with epidemics breaking out every six to nine years. The last U.S. rubella epidemic was in 1964-1965.

A rubella vaccine was developed in 1969. Since then, the disease has mostly been eliminated from the U.S.

Rubella is still present in other parts of the world, and an infected person in another country can bring the disease here. However, fewer than 10 cases of rubella are reported in the United States every year, and most of those cases originated outside the country. Nevertheless, anyone who is not vaccinated is at risk.

How is rubella transmitted?

Rubella is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Also, a pregnant woman can transfer rubella to her unborn baby.

A person with rubella is most contagious after the rash shows up, but the disease can be spread a week before that. Once someone is infected, the virus takes about five to seven days to travel throughout the body. If symptoms start, it is usually about two to three weeks after exposure.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Symptoms of rubella include:

  • Red or pink rash that lasts about three days. It starts on the face and neck, then spreads to other body parts.
  • Fever of about 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Mild redness or swelling of the eye
  • Feeling unwell
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially behind the ears and in the neck
  • Joint pain (mostly in women)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Temporary pain in testicles (men)

However, between 25 percent and 50 percent of rubella patients show no symptoms.

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