What Is Rubella?

Rubella is an illness caused by a virus. The virus can result in a rash, mild fever, or arthritis. Pregnant women who have rubella are at increased risk for miscarriage. Their babies may be born with severe birth defects, including:

Rubella is passed from person to person through droplets in the air.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flushed face
  • Red throat (although not sore)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Achy joints and arthritis (especially in adults)
  • Red, spotty rash all over the body

Rash and fever generally last for 2-3 days.

There is no treatment for rubella. Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) can ease discomfort.

What Is the Rubella Vaccine?

Although rubella is available as a single vaccine, it is normally given in combination with:

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

All children (with few exceptions) should receive the vaccine two times:

  • 12-15 months
  • 4-6 years (school entry)—can be given earlier, but the two doses must be separated by at least four weeks

For those aged 12 months to 18 years who have not been vaccinated, two doses of MMR are given, separated by a minimum of 4 weeks. Adults who need the vaccine get one or two doses.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Rubella Vaccine?

Like any vaccine, the MMR vaccine could cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. While most people do not experience any problems, some have reported:

  • Mild problems:
    • Fever
    • Mild rash
    • Swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck
  • Moderate problems:
    • Seizure caused by fever
    • Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints
    • Low platelet count
  • Very rare:
    • Serious allergic reaction
    • Deafness
    • Long-term seizures
    • Coma
    • Lowered consciousness
    • Permanent brain damage

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

You should not get the vaccine if you have the following conditions:

  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or a previous dose of MMR vaccine
  • Are moderately or severely ill—Wait until you recover.
  • Are pregnant—Wait until after you give birth. If you are trying to become pregnant, wait four weeks after getting the vaccine.

Talk with your doctor before getting the MMR vaccine if you:

  • Have a condition that affects the immune system (eg, HIV/AIDS)
  • Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system (eg, long-term steroids)
  • Have cancer or are being treated for cancer
  • Have ever had a low blood platelet count
  • Have had a blood transfusion

What Other Ways Can Rubella Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Widespread vaccination has resulted in rubella's virtual elimination in the US. It is important to avoid contact with people who may have been exposed to the disease in order to prevent it.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

Since rubella is now rare in the US, even one case is considered potential for an outbreak. In the event of an outbreak, members of households, workplaces, universities, jails, and communities with rubella-infected persons will be assessed to determine whether they might have rubella.

Once rubella cases are identified, patients should be isolated for 5-7 days after the rash began. Furthermore, people in contact with the infected person should be vaccinated if they are eligible for the vaccine. It is important to identify and test all pregnant women for immunity. These women should avoid activities where they may be exposed to an infected person. In some settings, such as children born with congenital rubella syndrome, viral shedding can be quite prolonged.