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Classifications and external resources
ICD-10 B06.
ICD-9 056
?Rubella virus
Virus classification
Group: Group IV ((+)ssRNA)
Family: Togaviridae
Genus: Rubivirus
Species: Rubella virus

Rubella (also known as epidemic roseola, German measles, liberty measles[1] or three-day measles) is a disease caused by the Rubella virus. It is often mild and an attack can pass unnoticed. However, this can make the virus difficult to diagnose. The virus usually enters the body through the nose or throat. The disease can last 1-5 days. Children recover more quickly than adults. Like most viruses living along the respiratory tract, it is passed from person to person by tiny droplets in the air that are breathed out. Rubella can pose a serious risk as it can also be transmitted from a mother to her developing baby through the bloodstream via the placenta. If the mother is infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the baby will have congenital rubella syndrome. The virus has an incubation period of 2 to 3 weeks during which it becomes established.

The name German measles has nothing to do with Germany. It comes from the Latin germanus, meaning "similar", since rubella and measles share many symptoms.



Rubella rash on the abdomen
Rubella rash on the abdomen

Symptoms of rubella include:

Children: Low grade fever, swollen glands, joint pain, headache, conjunctivitis, rash

Adults and children:

  • swollen glands or lymph nodes (may persist for up to a week)
  • fever (rarely rises above 38 degrees Celsius [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit])
  • rash (Appears on the face and then spreads to the trunk and limbs. It appears as pink dots under the skin. It appears on the first or third day of the illness but it disappears after a few days with no staining or peeling of the skin)
  • Forchheimer's sign occurs in 20% of cases, and is characterized by small, red papules on the area of the soft palate
  • flaking, dry skin
  • nerves become weak or numb (very rare)


Rubella can affect anyone of any age and is generally a mild disease. However, rubella can cause congenital rubella syndrome in the fetus of an infected pregnant woman.

Prevention and treatment

Symptoms are usually treated with paracetamol until the disease has run its course. There is no treatment available for congenital rubella.

Fewer cases of rubella occur since a vaccine became available in 1969, although decreased uptake of the MMR vaccine (e.g. in the UK) is expected to lead to a rise in incidence. In most Western countries, the vast majority of people are vaccinated against rubella as children at 12 to 15 months of age. A second dose is required before age 11. The vaccine gives lifelong protection against rubella. A side-effect of the vaccine can be transient arthritis.

The immunization program has been quite successful with Cuba declaring the disease eradicated in the 1990s and the United States eradicating it in 2005 [1]. Every minister of health in the Americas plans to eliminate the disease by 2010.

Rubella in popular culture

Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side features a plot, possibly based on real life, in which a girl is shut up in quarantine for a minor illness but climbs out of the window to meet a celebrity. The celebrity is pregnant and unknowingly catches rubella resulting in a child with congenital rubella syndrome. However, as this is the fan's favourite anecdote, when she meets the celebrity years later she tells her this story so the celebrity realises that her baby's retardation were caused by this fan.


  1. ^ Over Here: World War I on the Home Front. Digital History. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.

External links

  • Rubella at Wong's Virology, accessed on 24th January 2006.
  • [2] Immunization Safety Review

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