What is rubella?

Rubella (German measles) is an infectious disease caused by the rubella virus. It spreads by the coughs and sneezes of infected people.

The illness is usually mild. However, rubella in a pregnant woman can cause serious damage to the unborn child.

Immunisation with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine) has made rubella uncommon in the UK.1

The following is a summary about the disease. For further details speak to your local pharmacist or GP.

Related: Measles | Mumps

How is rubella spread?

Rubella is spread by direct contact and by coughing and sneezing the virus into the air. The incubation period is 2-3 weeks.

A person can remain infectious from 1 week before symptoms begin until 4 days after the rash appears. Infected adults/children are advised to stay at home for 4 days after the rash starts to prevent spread of the infection.1

Which countries are at risk from rubella?

Rates of rubella are high in regions where the rubella vaccines are not included in the nation programmes, which include:

  • Africa
  • South East Asia2

What are the signs and symptoms of rubella?

Most people are asymptomatic when they are infected with the rubella virus.

Occasionally some people develop symptoms which may include:

  • Swollen glands
  • Spotty, pink-red rash – usually starts behind the ears, then spreads to the face and neck and then spreads to the rest of the body
  • Fever
  • Cough/cold
  • Sore throat
  • Sore red eyes (conjunctivitis
  • Joint pains
  • Tiredness
  • Headache1

More details of the rubella rash can be found here3.

What are the complications of rubella?

Complications of rubella can rarely occur. This can include:

  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Arthritis1

If a pregnant woman gets rubella virus, her baby could have birth defects such as:

  • Deafness
  • Cataracts
  • Heart defects
  • Mental disabilities
  • Organ damage

What is the treatment for rubella?

Rubella is usually mild and improved by itself. There is no specific treatment. Treatment for symptoms is advisable.

  • Paracetamol – for fever and aches/pains
  • Drink plenty of fluids

Keep children away from school for 4 days after the rash appears.1

What advice is there for travellers?

Rubella is common in some areas of the world (Asia, Africa, the Indian sub-continent and South America).

When to consider vaccination


The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination is given on the NHS as a single injection to babies as part of their routine vaccination schedule. It is given

  • 1st dose: within a month of their 1st birthday
  • 2nd dose: 3 years and 4 month

The vaccine can sometimes be given to babies from 6 months if they may have been exposed to the measles virus. It is not recommended to babies under 6 months.

MMR vaccination is also recommended for:

  • Older children up to the age of 18 who have missed or are only partially vaccinated
  • Women planning for pregnancy (not suitable once they are pregnant)5


MMR vaccines contain live, attenuated (modified) strains of measles, mumps and rubella viruses. MMR vaccine does not contain thiomersal or any other preservatives.5


This information is taken from trusted third party websites, NaTHNaC (Travel Health Pro) and EMIS (Patient info) and use of all information has been licenced under the Open Government Licence

Although the materials are being used/replicated under the provisions of the Open Government Licence this in no way represents endorsement of by NaTHNaC, Emis, Public Health England, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.


  1. Patient.Info: Rubella
  2. World Health Organisation (WHO): Rubella
  3. NHS: Rubella (German measles)
  4. NHS: MMR vaccine overview
  5. The Green Book: Chapter 28: Rubella