Rubella treatment and prevention

Rubella is a viral infection characterised by a red rash which is also called German measles. It looks a lot like measles, but it’s not the same illness. We’ve all but eliminated rubella here in New Zealand and other developed countries because we regularly vaccinate our kids.

What causes it?

The virus that causes rubella is contagious and is spread through contact with people who already have the virus. If someone you know has rubella, you can catch it from them if you are not already immune, it usually takes 16-18days before you get sick.

Is it serious?

Rubella is generally not serious except for pregnant women. If a pregnant woman catches rubella, her baby can be in danger. Unborn babies of mothers who catch rubella can suffer from birth defects or even death. In rare cases, rubella can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Can I prevent it?

The MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine is given to children to prevent them from getting the virus that causes rubella. The vaccine is given at 15 months, and again at four years. People who have the virus are contagious for about a week before the rash appears and for several days after the rash is visible, so keep your child at home during this time to prevent infecting others.

How do I know if my child has rubella?

You may not know that your child has rubella because it looks like any other rash. Your doctor can perform a test to confirm that he has it. It may take up to three weeks after your child has been exposed to the virus for him to start showing symptoms. If your child has a mild case of rubella, he might experience:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Aching joints
  • Runny nose
  • A rash that starts on his face and quickly spreads to the torso, then the arms and legs. The rash goes away in the same order that it appeared.

More serious cases of rubella may include:

  • Temporary arthritis
  • Ear infections
  • Encephalitis

How do I treat it?

The best way to treat rubella is by getting lots of bed rest and plenty of fluids. Your child will probably feel achy and miserable, so give him paracetamol for fever and for aches and pains.

It is serious when a pregnant woman gets rubella. Her baby can be born with ‘congenital rubella syndrome’ which may result in retardation, heart defects, deafness, and even death. Women who get the virus may need special treatment in a hospital.

Should I call the doctor?

Always call the doctor if you or your child has been exposed to rubella. Health agencies need to be notified about outbreaks so that they can prevent the spread of the virus. Pregnant women may need special treatment to help prevent serious illnesses in their unborn child.

What you need to know:

  • Rubella is also called German measles.
  • It is contagious but can be prevented through vaccinations.
  • It is dangerous to unborn babies.
  • Always call the doctor if you suspect that you or your child has been exposed to the virus.

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