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What is Rubella?

Most children are routinely vaccinated for rubella.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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Rubella is an infectious, but mild viral disease characterized by an eruptive rash which starts on the face and spreads along the rest of the body. In most cases, rubella is relatively harmless, with all symptoms disappearing after a week or so, leaving the patient with a life long immunity. However, in pregnant women, rubella can cause severe birth defects or miscarriage if contracted in the first trimester.

The disease is caused by the spread of discharge from the nose and throat of an infected patient. This discharge carries a load of rubivirus, the viral agent responsible for infection. Symptoms may not emerge for up to one month, as the virus breeds in the body. The rash is usually the first sign, and the patient may also experience a fever and some joint pain. Within three days, the rash is gone, leading some people to refer to rubella as “the three day measles.” In some cases, patients experience lingering joint pain as a result of rubella infection.

The word “rubella” is derived from the Latin word for “red,” a reference to the distinctive rash which accompanies rubella infection. It may also be called German measles, and it has traditionally been associated with childhood, since most patients acquired the infection as youths, allowing them to resist it as adults. Adults without immunity would, of course, experience full blown symptoms of rubella if they were exposed it, but these symptoms would not usually be dangerous.

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Fortunately, a vaccine for rubella was developed in 1969, and children are routinely vaccinated for it in most first world countries. Women who are considering pregnancy may want to consider asking their doctors about taking a rubella titer to ensure that they have a healthy population of antibodies to the disease. Since the condition is highly contagious, travelers may be at risk when they visit nations with less stringent vaccination policies; rubella boosters may be recommended in this case.

In the rare event that someone contracts rubella, the disease is usually allowed to run its course. Medical professionals may ask the patient to stay at home, so that he or she does not expose others, especially pregnant women, to the disease. In some cases, aspirin may be given to combat the joint pain; otherwise, no treatment is given other than a recommendation to keep well hydrated and warm. If the fever associated with the condition becomes severe, more serious action may need to be taken to keep the patient healthy.

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Discuss this Article

anon206020
Post 4

thanks for answering my my question.

elizabeth2
Post 3

If rubella is generally not a very dangerous disease, why is a rubella vaccination used? Maybe there is a chance that the vaccination is more dangerous than the disease.

Although, I guess that's pretty easy for me to say, never having had rubella, myself. I suppose if I had to suffer the symptoms, I would understand why a vaccine for it would be desirable.

Catapult
Post 1

I am glad I got an MMR vaccine- also known as measles, mumps, and rubella- when I was younger. While I know you can get over these illnesses fairly easily most of the time, I am glad I do not have to take my chances. I don't believe that everyone needs vaccinations for everything, but I think for things like this, where the vaccine has shown its worth over the years, it can be a very good idea.

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