Causes of rubella or German measles

Rubella is caused by a virus that spreads through personal contact, or by coughing and sneezing.

Rubella is serious only if a woman gets it while in the early stages of pregnancy. This can cause abnormalities in her unborn baby.

Rubella is also called German measles.

Children who have a rubella infection must be kept away from pregnant women. If a pregnant woman catches rubella, it can seriously harm her unborn baby. Routine childhood immunisation against rubella means most pregnant women are protected from catching it.

Rubella symptoms

The incubation period for rubella is 2-3 weeks – that is, the virus infects your child 2-3 weeks before symptoms show.

Rubella starts like a mild cold, with a slight fever or sore throat, and swollen lymph glands in the neck.

Your child will get a rash 2-3 days after these symptoms. Pale pink spots form on your child’s face and spread to the chest, tummy and back. Gradually these spots merge to form patches. The rash lasts only a few days before going away.

Your child can pass on the infection for about five days before and seven days after she first gets the rubella rash.

Rubella is very uncommon in Australia. When it does appear, it’s most common among children under 13 years.

Rubella treatment

There’s no specific treatment for rubella. The best you can do is treat the symptoms – for example, use paracetamol in recommended doses for fever.

Rubella prevention

If your child has rubella, he should stay at home until he’s fully recovered. This will help stop the spread of the virus.

You should keep your child away from anyone who could be pregnant.

The best way to avoid rubella is to have your child immunised. As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against rubella at:

  • 12 months, in the MMR vaccine, which protects your child from measles, mumps and rubella
  • 18 months, in the MMRV vaccine, which protects your child from measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.
There is no scientific evidence of a link between immunisation and ASD. If you have any concerns about this issue, you should discuss them with your doctor.