Rubella, also known as German measles, is a viral infection that can cause birth defects in an unborn baby. It is important for national health that we remain immune to this infection. Rubella is most commonly spread when someone inhales a cough or sneeze from an infected person.

A pregnant woman who contains the rubella infection may pass it through to the unborn baby via her cord blood. It is possible for unborn babies can congenitally acquire rubella specific Immunoglobulin M in cord blood sera. IgM is an antibody that is produced by B cells as a response to initial exposure to an antigen.

Severe rubella symptoms

Most cases of rubella in adults will report minor levels and reveal no symptoms. When rubella infection is more severe it will show symptoms such as:

  • mild fever
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • sore eyes
  • skin rash
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • joint pain

Complications of rubella

Rubella is a mild illness compared to measles and most people recover within about three days. Possible complications of rubella include:

  • arthralgia – lingering joint pain that may take a month or more to get better
  • otitis media – inflammation of the middle ear
  • encephalitis – inflammation of the brain, which can be fatal in some cases.

Pregnant women who suspect they may have been exposed to rubella should see their doctor immediately.

The spread of rubella

People infected with rubella are infectious for approximately one week before, and for at least four days after, the onset of a rash.

High-risk groups for rubella

Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated against rubella is most at risk. One should be vaccinated especially if they:

  • are travelling
  • are working with children
  • are working in healthcare places

Dr Gary Swift is a Gynaecologist and Obstetrician who specialises in laparoscopic surgery and reproductive medicine. His clinic serves the community for the support of ongoing health for women and for couples wanting to plan a family.