Rubella, also called German measles or three-day measles, is a highly contagious viral disease that in most
children and adults causes mild symptoms of low fever, swollen glands, joint pain, and a fine red rash. Although rubella causes only mild symptoms in child and adult sufferers, the infection can have severe complications for the fetus of a woman who becomes infected with the virus during the first trimester of pregnancy. These complications include severe birth defects or death of the fetus.
Rubella is spread through contact with fluid droplets expelled from the nose or throat of an infected person. A person infected with the rubella virus is contagious for about seven days before any symptoms appear and continues to be able to spread the disease for about four days after the appearance of symptoms. Rubella has an incubation period of 12 to 23 days.
Although rubella is generally considered a childhood illness, people of any age who have not been vaccinated or previously caught the disease can become infected. Having rubella once or being immunized against rubella normally gives lifetime immunity. For this reason vaccination is highly effective in reducing the number of rubella cases.
Women of childbearing age who do not have immunity against rubella should be particularly concerned about getting the disease. Rubella infection during the first three months of pregnancy can cause a woman to miscarry or cause her baby to be born with birth defects. Although it has been practically eradicated in the United States, rubella is still common in less developed countries because of poor immunization penetration, creating a risk to susceptible travelers. Some countries have chosen to target rubella vaccination to females only and outbreaks in foreign-born males have occurred on cruise ships and at U.S. summer camps.