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German measles - Symptoms of rubella

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The symptoms of rubella usually take 2-3 weeks to develop after infection. This time is called the incubation period.

Some infected people will not develop any symptoms, but in those who do, a rash and swelling around the neck and head are common signs of the condition.

A red-pink rash

The rubella rash is typically a red-pink colour. It consists of a number of small spots, which may be slightly itchy.

The rash usually starts behind the ears, before spreading around the head and neck. It may then spread to the trunk (chest and tummy), legs and arms.

In most cases, the rash will disappear by itself within 3-5 days.

Swollen lymph glands

Lymph nodes, or glands, are small lumps of tissue found throughout the body. They contain white blood cells that help fight bacteria, viruses and anything else that causes infection.

If you have rubella, the glands behind the ears, below your skull at the back of your head, and in your neck usually swell. In some cases, this swelling can be painful.

These lymph glands sometimes start to swell before the rash appears and the swelling can last for several weeks after the rash has gone.

Other symptoms

As well as a rash and swollen lymph glands, people with rubella may also develop other symptoms, including:

  • a high temperature (fever), which is usually mild (less than 39°C or 102.2°F), but can be more severe in adults
  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat and cough
  • slightly sore and red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • aching and painful joints
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness

These symptoms may develop shortly before the rash and usually last for a few days.

Seeking medical advice

You should always contact your GP if you suspect that you or your child have rubella.

While the condition is usually mild, it is important that the diagnosis is confirmed by a doctor as the symptoms could be due to a more serious illness. It is also important that any cases of rubella are reported to the relevant local health authorities so they can track the spread of infection in case there is a sudden outbreak of cases.

Do not visit your GP surgery without phoning first as arrangements may need to be made to reduce the risk of infecting others. In particular, contact with pregnant women should be avoided if possible because rubella can cause serious problems in an unborn baby (although this is rare nowadays).

Read about diagnosing rubella.

Medical Review: October 05, 2013
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