Rubella (German measles) is an infectious disease that is caused by a virus. It can cause a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over, and a distinctive red-pink rash. In most cases, rubella is a mild condition, but it can be serious in pregnant women because it can harm the unborn baby.
The rubella virus is passed on through droplets in the air from the coughs and sneezes of infected people, and it is about as infectious as flu. Anyone can get rubella, but young children are most commonly affected.
Rubella is a notifiable disease under the Public Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations 1988. This means that any doctor who diagnoses the infection must, by law, inform the local authority. This is to identify the source of the rubella infection and stop it spreading.
In 2008, there were approximately 27 laboratory confirmed cases of rubella in England and Wales.
Congenital rubella syndrome
Very rarely, a pregnant woman can catch rubella and pass it to her unborn baby. This is called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). In 2005 (the latest year with available figures) there were four cases of pregnant women catching rubella in the UK.
If rubella is caught within the first three months of the pregnancy, it can cause damage in 90% of unborn babies, including:
- eye problems, such as cataracts (cloudy patches on the lens of the eye),
- heart abnormalities, and
- brain damage.
It is possible to be immunised against rubella. The vaccine is offered to all children as part of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation programme, which was introduced in 1988. Between 1982 and 1988, rubella caused serious birth defects in 43 babies. However, following the introduction of the MMR vaccine, rubella has now almost been wiped out.
The British Medical Association (BMA), Department of Health (DH), and World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that all children should have the MMR vaccine. It is very important that everyone is immune to the virus so that serious health problems are not caused by an outbreak of mumps, measles, or rubella.
A fever is when you have a high body temperature (over 38C or 100.4F).
MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella. It's a vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella by making the body produce antibodies to fight off the viruses.
Vaccination or immunisation is usually given by an injection that makes the body's immune system produce antibodies that will fight off a virus.
A disease is an illness or condition that interferes with normal body functions.