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Rubella, also known as German measles, is usually mild in children. But for adults — especially pregnant women — rubella can cause serious consequences. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is the best way to protect against getting rubella.
Rubella vaccine is included in MMR, a combination vaccine that provides protection against three viral diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. MMR vaccine is safe and effective and has been widely used in the United States for over 20 years.
In the United States, two doses are recommended for children:
Your child’s health care provider may also offer the MMRV vaccine, a combination vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox). MMRV vaccine is licensed for children 12 months to 12 years of age and may be used in place of MMR vaccine if varicella vaccination is needed in addition to measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. Your child’s health care provider can help you decide which vaccine to use.
Immunizing your child on schedule is the best way to protect your child and others, including pregnant women and their unborn babies, from rubella infection.
In 2004, the United States declared that rubella had been eliminated. But the virus can be brought into the country at any time by visitors from other countries where the disease is still present. In addition, unvaccinated U.S. residents traveling to these countries can become infected and unknowingly bring the disease back home with them.
Anyone born during or after 1957 that has not had rubella or has not been vaccinated against the disease should receive at least one dose of MMR vaccine. If you're unsure, ask your health care provider to test your blood to see if you are immune to rubella. The simple act of getting vaccinated against rubella may protect you and those around you from getting infected, and it may protect an unborn baby from death or serious birth defects.
However, pregnant women should wait to get MMR vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should not become pregnant for 28 days following the receipt of the MMR vaccine or any of its components. (The combination MMRV vaccine is not licensed for those over 12 years old.)
Rubella—also known as German measles or three-day measles—is an infectious viral disease. But don't confuse rubella with measles, which is sometimes called rubeola. The two illnesses share similar features, including a characteristic red rash, but they are caused by different viruses.
Rubella virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected persons. Rubella is usually spread to others through sneezing or coughing.
In young children, rubella is usually mild, with few symptoms. They may have a mild rash, which usually starts on the face and then spreads to the neck, chest, arms, and legs, and it lasts for about three days. A child with rubella might also have a slight fever or other symptoms like a cold.
Adults are more likely to experience headache, pink eye, and general discomfort one to five days before the rash appears. Adults also tend to have more complications, including sore, swollen joints, and, less commonly, arthritis, especially in women. A brain infection called encephalitis is a rare, but serious, complication affecting adults with rubella.
However, the most serious consequence from rubella infection is the harm it can cause to a pregnant woman's unborn baby.
Anyone can get rubella. In 2004, the United States declared that rubella had been eliminated. But the virus can be brought into the country at any time by visitors from other countries where the disease is still present. In addition, unvaccinated U.S. residents traveling to these countries can become infected and unknowingly bring the disease back home with them.
Rubella infection during pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks, can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, and serious birth defects, including heart problems, hearing and sight problems, cognitive impairment, and liver or spleen damage.
Preventing rubella infection through vaccination is the best way to protect pregnant women’s unborn babies. Any woman who might become pregnant should be vaccinated, unless a blood test—an antibody titer—shows she is already immune to the disease.
Microscopic view of rubella (German measles).