Rubella is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus. It occurs mainly in winter and spring. Rubella is still common in many countries. However, the risk of getting rubella in Canada is very low.
Rubella is usually benign. However, it can cause complications, especially for pregnant women. For example, rubella can cause miscarriage or defects in the fetus.
Some people who get rubella do not have any symptoms. In other people, symptoms appear 2 to 3 weeks after they first become infected and last around 1 week. The symptoms of rubella are as follows:
- skin rash. The rash starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body. The rash lasts around 3 days;
- mild fever (below 39°C);
- conjunctivitis (red eyes).
Teenagers and adults may also develop the following symptoms:
- swelling of the lymph nodes behind the ears and in the neck;
- cold-like symptoms such as sneezing or a runny nose, which occur after the skin rash appears;
- joint pain.
When to consult
If you are pregnant and have had contact with someone who has rubella, see your doctor. He/she will give you his/her recommendations.
There is no specific treatment for rubella. Antibiotics are not helpful because the infection is caused by a virus rather than bacteria.
You can relieve your symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, for example Tylenol®, or ibuprofen, for example Advil®.
You must also drink plenty of liquids and rest to help fight the infection.
Children and teenagers
If your child is over 3 months old, you can give him/her acetaminophen, for example Tylenol®. Make sure you follow the directions that come with the product for your child’s weight.
Do not give acetylsalicylic acid, for example aspirin, to children and teenagers. This medication could cause a serious disease of the brain and liver called “Reye’s syndrome” in some children and teenagers.
Possible complications of rubella are:
- arthritis, especially in women;
- miscarriage, in pregnant women;
- birth defects, if the mother had rubella while she was pregnant.
More rarely, rubella can cause:
- encephalitis (infection of the brain);
- a temporary decrease in blood cells that help in blood clotting, which can lead to internal hemorrhage.
The rubella virus is spread by contact with secretions from the nose or throat of an infected person. Therefore, rubella is easily spread between family members or between children who go to the same daycare or school. A pregnant woman can pass rubella on to her fetus because the virus is able to cross the placenta. A baby with congenital rubella syndrome can also pass the virus on through its urine.
Protection and prevention
Sick children and adults should stay home from school and work and avoid young children and pregnant women. They should stay home until seven days after the appearance of the skin rash.
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against rubella.
The rubella vaccine is a combined vaccine, which means that it protects against several diseases at the same time.
According to Québec’s immunization schedule, children are given the rubella vaccine at 12 and 18 months of age.
If you are planning a pregnancy, make sure you are protected against rubella. The illness can cause severe defects in the baby if the mother had rubella while she was pregnant. Avoid getting pregnant for one month after vaccination against rubella also. Even if no cases have been reported, there is a theoretical risk of transmitting rubella to the fetus during vaccination.
Since free vaccination was introduced in Canada, the number of cases of rubella has decreased by almost 99%.
Procedure for getting vaccinated
Under the Québec Immunization Program, everyone can get vaccinated against rubella for free.
Consult the Québec Immunization Program page to find out the procedure for getting vaccinated.
Last update: June 20, 2019