Also Known As: Rubella, German Measles

Rubella, commonly known as German measles, is a disease caused by the rubella virus. The name "rubella" is derived from Latin, meaning little red. Rubella is also known as German measles because the disease was first described by German physicians in the mid-eighteenth century. This disease is often mild and attacks often pass unnoticed. The disease can last one to three days. Children recover more quickly than adults. Infection of the mother by Rubella virus during pregnancy can be serious; if the mother is infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the child may be born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which entails a range of serious incurable illnesses. Spontaneous abortion occurs in up to 20% of cases.

Rubella is a common childhood infection usually with minimal systemic upset although transient arthropathy may occur in adults. Serious complications are very rare. Apart from the effects of transplacental infection on the developing fetus, rubella is a relatively trivial infection.

Acquired (i.e. not congenital) rubella is transmitted via airborne droplet emission from the upper respiratory tract of active cases (can be passed along by the breath of people sick from Rubella. The virus may also be present in the urine, feces and on the skin. There is no carrier state: the reservoir exists entirely in active human cases. The disease has an incubation period of 2 to 3 weeks. In most people the virus is rapidly eliminated. However, it may persist for some months post partum in infants surviving the CRS. These children are a significant source of infection to other infants and, more importantly, to pregnant female contacts.

The name rubella is sometimes confused with rubeola, an alternative name for measles in English-speaking countries; the diseases are unrelated. In some other European languages, like Portuguese or Spanish, rubella and rubeola are synonyms, and rubeola is not an alternative name for measles.

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