German Measles (Rubella)

Rubella or German measles is a viral infection caused by the rubivirus. It is rare and can be spread via droplets from coughing and sneezing.

  1. Viral infection
  2. Causes a rash and swollen lymph glands
  3. Treated by relieving symptoms

It’s best to speak to a doctor as soon as you can if you think you might have rubella. Our video consultation service offers a secure place to speak to a doctor about German measles online. Simply book an appointment for a time that suits you, and get the advice you need.

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What is rubella?

Rubella is a viral infection, spread via droplets from sneezing and coughing. It causes a rash and swollen lymph nodes, and can also cause joint inflammation. In most cases, it is self-limiting and will not lead to any complications, however it may be dangerous if it is contracted during the early stages of pregnancy. Once someone has been infected with rubella, they will have lifetime immunity. 

How common is rubella?

As a result of the MMR immunisation programme, rubella is now rare in the UK. In 2012, out of the 569 cases that were notified as potentially rubella, only 44 were confirmed as positive in the laboratory. 

Prior to the introduction of the routine vaccination for rubella, the condition was much more common. In young children, rubella was particularly prevalent, and there were also many cases of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) which pregnant women can develop having contracted rubella. This may lead to severe complications, such as stillbirths and miscarriages, and birth defects in infants.

Despite this success in the UK, rubella remains a threat in many developing countries. WHO estimates that there are around 110,000 cases of CRS each year.

In otherwise healthy individuals, rubella rarely causes complications. Joint inflammation can occur, but it’s rarely severe. According to NICE, around 1 in 3,000 people with rubella are affected by a bleeding disorder and 1 in 6,000 by encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

Rubella doesn’t usually require any specific treatment, as the body’s immune system will in most cases be able to deal with it by itself. However, you’ll still need to speak to a doctor if you think you might have rubella, or develop symptoms after coming into contact with someone else who has it. They will recommend avoiding contact with others to limit the risk of spreading the infection, and may want to confirm that it is rubella through a lab test.

What should I do if I develop symptoms of rubella?

People who develop symptoms which resemble rubella are advised to seek medical advice as soon as possible. If you are unable to see your regular GP and would like to talk to a GMC registered doctor online about rubella, you can do so through our secure video doctor service. Simply book a consultation at a time that suits you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How is rubella diagnosed?

Rubella can be diagnosed through a combination of symptom identification, medical profiling of the patient and laboratory testing. 

Rubella presents itself in a similar way to measles, causing a rash, fever, inflammation of the eyes, swollen glands, pain or discomfort in the joints and a general feeling of being unwell. However, the rash does not last for the same length of time as it does in measles (three to five days as opposed to five to seven days). Swollen lymph nodes usually occur before the rash and can last for 10 or more days after the rash has disappeared. 

The presence of these symptoms alone is not usually sufficient for a diagnosis; a doctor will consider the immunisation history of the patient, as rubella is extremely unlikely in people who have been vaccinated against it. A doctor will also want to know whether a person has been in direct contact with someone else with rubella, and whether there have been any outbreaks in the area. 

Will I need tests?

Rubella is a rare virus in the UK, as a vaccination programme against it is in place. If a doctor thinks you could have rubella, they will usually confirm it by arranging a saliva or blood test.

What will a doctor normally advise?

Rubella normally resolves itself within a week or two. A doctor will advise you to take measures to help alleviate symptoms. Rest is crucial for a full recovery and sufficient fluid intake is important to avoid dehydration. A clinician may suggest taking paracetamol and ibuprofen to help with the fever and pain. You will also be advised not to go to work for a week after the rash has developed, to enable you to recover and prevent the spread of the infection.

What treatments are there for rubella?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for rubella. Rest and hydration are key to a full recovery.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is rubella treated?

Uncomplicated rubella is treated by resting and recuperating until the infection clears. It’s recommended that you stay hydrated and take paracetamol and ibuprofen to alleviate the pain when necessary.

What treatments are there?

There are no antiviral treatments available to treat rubella. It is treated by simply resting at home whilst the infection clears, and avoiding direct contact with those who have not had it. 

The MMR vaccine is effective at preventing rubella. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you should be able to arrange this through your GP.

Are there side effects?

Sometimes vaccinations can cause flu-like symptoms shortly after being administered, but these usually pass fairly quickly. You should tell the doctor or nurse giving you the vaccine about any medical conditions or allergies that you may have, as they will need to consider whether these may prevent you from being able to have the vaccine safely.

Can I consult a doctor about rubella online?

You should speak to a doctor or nurse as soon as you can if you think you might have rubella, or have developed symptoms after coming into contact with someone who has it. Our online video service is available for you to speak to a doctor about rubella, at a time that suits you best.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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