Rubella, also known as German measles, is a viral infection which usually causes mild symptoms in those who catch it. For most people, symptoms will clear after around a week. It can be serious if you catch it while you are pregnant.

Risk areas
Rare in the UK, common in other countries with low vaccination rates
Also known as
German measles, three-day-measles
People at highest risk
Pregnant women

01. Causes

Rubella is a viral infection which was usually spread by children and young adults, up until the introduction of widespread vaccination.

In recent years, rubella infections have been very rare in the UK. Rubella is, however, common in other regions of the world, so it is essential that you and your children are up-to-date with rubella vaccination if you intend to travel.

02. Is rubella contagious?

Rubella is a contagious viral illness, spread through coughing and sneezing.

03. Symptoms

The main symptom of rubella is a rash that appears 2 to 3 weeks after infection.

This rash starts on the head behind the ears, before spreading down across the body. It can feel bumpy.

Other symptoms can include:

  • a temperature of 38C or above

  • a general feeling of being unwell

  • coughing and sneezing

  • a sore throat

  • red eyes and conjunctivitis

  • aching joints

04. Complications

For most people, rubella will pass without any major complications. However, for pregnant women who catch rubella, infection can pose a serious risk to their unborn baby, particularly when caught in early pregnancy.

Rubella can cause miscarriage and other serious disabilities to your baby.

These can include:

  • brain damage

  • problems with sight

  • deafness

  • heart abnormalities

05. Treatment

Rubella usually resolves after about 1 week.

There is no treatment for rubella, but it can help to:

  • get lots of rest

  • drink a lot of fluids

06. Prevention

The MMR vaccine is the best way to prevent rubella infection.

If you or your child need to get the MMR vaccine, you can book a vaccination appointment online today.

If you are unsure if the MMR vaccine is right for you, book a free telephone consultation to speak to one of our prescribing nurses who can advise you.

  • check if you need the MMR vaccine

  • find out more about rubella symptoms so you can spot them

  • avoid contact with anyone who has been infected with rubella

  • if you think you have rubella stay at home for at least 5 days after the rash appears, and limit your contact with pregnant women

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water

  • use tissues when you cough or sneeze, and throw them in the bin after you use them

Content reviewed by

Anne-Marie Major
24 August 2020