Rubella (German Measles)

What is rubella?

Rubella is an illness caused by a virus. With rubella, your child will have:

  • A rash of widespread pink-red spots that starts on the face or chest and spreads rapidly downward, covering the body in 24 hours.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes at the back of the neck.
  • A mild fever.

Many other viral rashes look like rubella. It is difficult for healthcare providers to diagnosis rubella even after examining your child. This diagnosis usually can't be made unless there is an epidemic of it in your community. Rubella is an uncommon infection because of routine immunization against rubella.

What is the cause?

Rubella is caused by a virus. The symptoms usually appear 14 to 21 days after your child was exposed to the virus.

How long will it last?

The disease is mild. The rash will be gone and your child should be completely recovered in 3 or 4 days. Complications are very rare.

However, pregnant women should avoid anyone who may have rubella. Complications to the unborn child of a pregnant woman with rubella are disastrous and include deafness, cataracts, heart defects, and encephalitis.

How can I take care of my child?

If your healthcare provider has determined that your child probably has rubella, the following may be helpful:

  • Treatment

    No treatment is usually necessary. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for fever over 102°F (38.9°C), sore throat, or other pains.

  • Avoid pregnant women

    If your child might have rubella, keep him away from any pregnant women. The disease is most contagious when the rash is erupting, but virus may be spread from 7 days before to 7 days after the rash appears.

  • Exposure of adult women to rubella

    A nonpregnant woman exposed to rubella should avoid getting pregnant during the next 3 months.

    A pregnant woman exposed to rubella should see her obstetrician. If she has already received the rubella vaccine, she and her unborn child are probably protected. Even if she thinks she had German measles as a child and the recent exposure was minor or brief, she should have a blood test to determine her immunity against rubella.

  • Rubella vaccine

    All children should be vaccinated against rubella. The rubella shot is the “R” in MMR, so it protection is obtained with usual vaccination with that vaccine. The first dose of rubella vaccine is given to children between 12 and 15 months of age and the second is given between the ages of 4 and 6 years. It is safe to immunize a child who has a pregnant mother, but pregnant women should not be vaccinated.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?


  • The rash becomes purple spots or dots.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • The rash becomes itchy.
  • The fever lasts more than 3 days.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-19
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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