Rubella is a contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash. You may also have heard rubella referred to as ‘German measles’ or ‘three-day measles’.
Like many other viruses, it is spread through the tiny droplets produced by a sneeze or cough. Symptoms appear around two or three weeks after exposure. In children, the disease is usually mild – symptoms include low fever and nausea. Adults who catch rubella can develop arthritis and painful joints.
Infection during early pregnancy can be much more serious. Rubella can cause foetal death or Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) which can lead babies to be born with brain damage, deafness, blindness or multiple organ failure. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, you doctor can test whether you are currently immune to rubella.
Is there a treatment?
No, there is no specific treatment for rubella.
Is it preventable?
Yes, rubella is preventable. The MMR vaccine includes protection against rubella. The World Health Organization (WHO) and professional medical associations recommend immunisation with two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Increased immunisation rates in recent decades have had a major impact on the prevalence of rubella in the developed world. In the US, rubella has been eradicated and Europe is working to follow suit.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes, it is. The WHO has collected the best available evidence to support the safety and efficacy of the MMR vaccine. All health authorities and professional medical bodies recommend that children have two doses of the vaccine.
In recent years, there have been unfounded concerns about the safety of the MMR vaccine. In particular, you may have heard claims that the MMR vaccine is somehow connected with autism. This notion was based on one thoroughly debunked study published in 1998. That research paper has since been withdrawn and its lead author has lost his medical license.
Study after study has given the vaccine a clean bill of health and there is no evidence whatsoever linking the MMR vaccine with developmental disorders like autism.
What we do know is that rubella is at best a source of avoidable discomfort and at worst a life-threatening virus.