Rubella (German measles)

Rubella is caused by a virus, and although usually a mild disease, it is very serious for pregnant women and their babies. The name rubella means “little red” in Latin (due to the rash); it was first believed to be a form of measles, and it was first described in Germany – hence it is commonly known as German measles.

The virus that causes rubella is spread by coughing and sneezing. Infected people are contagious for 10 days before developing a rash, up to 1-2 weeks after the rash appears.

About two to three weeks after infection with the virus, symptoms may appear, though often they are very mild and go unnoticed. Commonly your baby may feel unwell for 2 to 3 days, and can have a slightly high temperature, headache, stuffy/runny nose, swollen red eyes, swollen glands in the neck, aching joints and a fine pink rash that starts on the face, spreads down the body to the arms and legs then fades.

There are some complications of rubella but they aren’t that common and are more likely to affect adults. Unborn babies are at most serious risk from rubella, and can suffer from something called ‘congenital rubella syndrome (CRS)’. If a pregnant woman is infected, the rubella virus can cross the placenta and can cause serious birth defects including deafness, vision problems (due to cloudy corneas or cataracts in the eye), developmental delays and intellectual disabilities, or stillbirth.

Rubella vaccination is very important to protect babies from CRS – before a vaccine was available about 4 babies in every 1,000 were born with CRS. The MMR vaccine protects children from the virus that causes rubella.