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What causes rubella?

Rubella is caused by a virus.

How does rubella spread?

Rubella spreads from person to person through the air. Rubella is contagious but less so than measles and chickenpox.

How long does it take to show signs of rubella after being exposed?

The incubation period varies from 12 to 23 days (average, 14 days). Symptoms are often mild and may not be noticed up to half of the time.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Children with rubella usually first break out in a rash, which starts on the face and progresses down the body. Older children and adults usually first suffer from low-grade fever, swollen glands in the neck or behind the ears, and upper respiratory infection before they develop a rash. Adult women often develop pain and stiffness in their finger, wrist, and knee joints, which may last up to a month. Up to half of people infected with rubella virus have no symptoms at all.

How serious is rubella?

Rubella is usually a mild disease in children; adults tend to have more complications. The main concern with rubella disease, however, is the effect it has on an infected pregnant woman. Rubella infection in the first trimester of pregnancy can lead to fetal death, premature delivery, and serious birth defects.

What are possible complications from rubella?

Encephalitis (brain infection) occurs in one in 6,000 cases, usually in adults. Temporary blood problems, including low platelet levels and hemorrhage, also occur rarely. Up to 70% of adult women with rubella have pain and/or swelling of the joints, which is usually temporary.

The most serious complication of rubella infection is Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), the result when the rubella virus attacks a developing fetus. Up to 85% of infants infected during the first trimester of pregnancy will be born with some type of birth defect, including deafness, eye defects, heart defects, mental retardation, and more. Infection early in the pregnancy (less than 12 weeks gestation) is the most dangerous; defects are rare when infection occurs after 20 weeks gestation.

Is there a treatment for rubella?

There is no "cure" for rubella, only supportive treatment (e.g., bed rest, fluids, and fever reduction).

MMR is the vaccine of choice when protection against any of these three diseases.

Since vaccines containing measles, rubella, and mumps vaccine viruses were licensed, the numbers of reported cases of measles, mumps, rubella have decreased by more than 99%.

Children should receive the first dose of MMR vaccine at age 12-15 months. The second dose of MMR vaccine is recommended when children are aged 4-6 years.

People born after 1957

Persons born in 1957 or later and who do not have a medical contraindication should receive at least one dose of MMR vaccine unless they have

  • documentation of vaccination with at least one dose of measles-, rubella-, and mumps-containing vaccine or
  • other acceptable evidence of immunity to these three diseases

Persons born before 1957 generally can be considered immune to measles and mumps. In addition, persons born before 1957, except women who could become pregnant, generally can be considered immune to rubella.

MMR vaccine may be given to any person born before 1957 for which the vaccine is not contraindicated.

Adults who may be at increased risk for exposure to and transmission of measles, mumps, and rubella should receive special consideration for vaccination. These persons include:

  • international travelers,
  • persons attending colleges and other post-high school educational institutions,
  • persons who work at health-care facilities and,
  • all women of childbearing age should be considered susceptible to rubella unless they have received at least one dose of MMR or other live rubella virus vaccine on or after the first birthday or have serologic evidence of immunity.

For more information on the MMR vaccine, please contact Carroll County Public Health/St. Anthony Home Health Agency at 712-794-5279 or 1-800-684-3020.

    Public Health
    608 N. Court St.
    Suite A
    Carroll, IA 51401

    Suite A is located in the alley between Court St. and Clark St. behind United Bank of Iowa.

    Phone: 712-775-2660

    Fax: 712-792-0254

    [email protected]


    Office Hours:
    Monday - Friday
    8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    Megan Owen-LPN
    Carey Kersey-MS, LPN

    Public Health Directors