What is rubella?
Rubella, also known as German measles, is an infection caused by a virus. It generally causes mild infection in infants and young children, however rubella infection in pregnant women is very serious. It is especially concerning during the early part of pregnancy and can cause unborn babies to have serious birth defects and long term health problems. It can even cause the unborn baby to die before birth.
Rubella is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of rubella?
Symptoms of rubella infection include:
- sore throat
- swollen glands in the neck and behind the ears
- a mild rash consisting of small red spots that last a few days
The rash usually starts on the face and then spreads to the neck, chest, arms and legs.
Older children and adults may have swollen glands and symptoms like a cold before the rash appears. Aching joints occur in many cases, especially among women.
About half of the people who get rubella do not have symptoms.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is rubella spread?
Rubella virus is found in the nose and throat of an infected person. When the person coughs or sneezes they spray droplets which can land on the eyes, nose or mouth of nearby persons and can cause infection to develop. They can also land on objects and surfaces in the environment. The virus can be picked up from surfaces by the hands and can be spread to the eyes, nose or mouth.
People with rubella may spread the virus for about seven days before symptoms appear, and for at least four days after. Babies who are born with rubella syndrome are contagious for at least one year after they’re born, because the virus is present in their saliva and urine.
How is rubella treated?
There is no treatment for rubella. Because the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effect.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is rubella prevented?
The best protection against rubella is vaccination. In Ontario, the rubella vaccine is combined with the measles and mumps vaccine. It is called the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The MMR vaccine gives children lifelong protection against rubella.
Provincial law states that all children going to school in Ontario must be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, unless they are excused for medical or philosophical reasons.
Women planning to become pregnant should have a blood test to determine if they have immunity against rubella. If they do not, they should get the vaccine.
Pregnant women should also be tested and, if they are not immune, should get vaccinated as soon as possible after their child is born.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.