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How do I Recognize a Rubella Rash?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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A rubella rash is not the first sign of rubella, but it is the most easily identified symptom of the disease. As the disease runs its course, the rash will begin on the face or neck before spreading to the torso and extremities, with an appearance similar to a rash caused by measles. In fact, rubella is commonly referred to as German measles because of the similarity of these rashes.

The rubella rash will usually appear first on the neck or face and is often the first symptom observed. There will be a small irritated area, either visible as a pink patch or an area of pinprick dots. These dots lie just under the skin, and the rash might be mistaken for hives, but a rubella rash will not be raised or irritated like hives. Rubella does not cause severe swelling or blistering, and if these symptoms are visible, rubella can be eliminated as a likely cause.

As the disease progresses, the rubella rash will quickly spread over the torso, arms and legs, typically covering the entire body within hours. The buttocks are likely to be the area most severely affected. This rash can cause considerable discomfort, and the patient will be inclined to scratch. Scratching is likely to cause further irritation and should be discouraged.

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Rubella rashes take three to five days to clear up and will cause the skin to flake as it does so. By the end of the second day, the rubella rash will begin to clear, and this rapid fading is another indicator that rubella was responsible for triggering the rash. As this rash fades, it leaves behind dry, damaged skin. The dry skin falls away as tiny flakes before, exposing healthy skin beneath.

Changes in the skin are not the first visible symptoms of rubella, and an awareness of early signs of rubella will help to identify the rash. The patient will experience a fever before any rash is visible. Most often, this is a low-grade fever, typically remaining below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius). Patients who have rubella might also experience a swelling of the lymph nodes, which can be identified by gently feeling behind the patient’s ears.

Teens and adults might experience additional symptoms. Headache and aching joints are all common symptoms of rubella. Fatigue, runny nose and mild conjunctivitis are also likely. When these symptoms are present, it might be helpful to check for a rubella rash.

Vaccination had made rubella uncommon in most developed countries, but in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, reports linking the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) to autism discouraged some parents from vaccinating their children. Later studies disputed the findings of this first report, finding no correlation between MMR vaccination and autism but could not categorically prove the link unfounded, meaning that many people's fears remained. As a result, the number of rubella cases rose dramatically through these decades.

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