A young boy running happily through the street.

Rubella is well controlled in Australia and is usually a mild disease. However, if an unborn baby is infected, it can cause serious birth defects or miscarriage. 

Did you know?

  • Rubella is generally a mild disease that causes a rash, swollen glands and joint pain.
  • It can have serious consequences for unborn babies if a pregnant woman is infected, with about 9 out of 10 unborn babies exposed to rubella in the first trimester of pregnancy will often have multiple abnormalities.1
A little girl smiling and laughing at the breakfast table.

What is it?

Rubella, also known as German measles, is caused by the Rubivirus. The contagious virus generally causes mild disease, with about half of those infected showing few or no symptoms.1

However, if a pregnant woman becomes infected with rubella (especially during the first trimester), it can lead to serious abnormalities in the developing baby – such as deafness, blindness, heart defects, impaired growth and intellectual disabilities.

What are the symptoms?

Rubella is generally a mild disease and usually resolves naturally. Rubella symptoms, if they do appear, generally occur 2 to 3 weeks after infection and may include:

  • mild fever
  • swollen glands
  • joint pain
  • runny nose
  • sore eyes
  • a red rash lasting about 3 days which usually appears first on the face then spreads to the rest of the body.

Complications such as lingering joint pain, inflammation (swelling) of the middle ear or the brain or bleeding problems may occur, but are rare.

If an unborn baby is infected with rubella, particularly during the first trimester, they can develop serious birth defects. Rubella can also cause miscarriage.

This is not a full list of symptoms, that can occur following rubella infection. Please speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about rubella infection.

How is it spread?

Rubella is spread from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. An infected person is contagious for up to a week before the rash appears, and until 4 days after it clears.

Who is at risk?

Since the introduction of rubella vaccination in Australia, rubella is now rare. However, cases and outbreaks can still occur, therefore anyone who is not immune to rubella is at risk of infection, particularly:

  • travellers to areas where rubella immunisation is not widespread
  • childcare workers
  • healthcare workers
  • unborn babies whose mothers have low or no rubella immunity.

Other people may also be at risk of rubella infection. Please speak to a healthcare professional regarding your individual circumstances.

Prevention and Treatment options

  • Children and Adults

    Practicing good hygiene can help to protect against illness and the spread of germs:

    • covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or into your upper sleeve or elbow
    • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • if no water is available use an alcohol-based hand-rub

    The risk of rubella can be reduced through immunisation.

    Because it is a viral infection, there is no specific treatment for rubella. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, reducing fever and pain, cold packs to press against swollen glands and reducing the risk of spreading the disease by staying away from others.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about rubella prevention and treatment options.

    • 28
    • 29
  • Travellers

    It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss prevention options and travel health.

References

  1.  Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018, immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au. (accessed October 2020)

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190047 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021