Rubella (German Measles or third disease) is a contagious viral infection caused by a Togavirus, which is widespread in the community, and causes epidemics every few years. It spreads from one person to another with coughs and sneezes, but can be caught only once in a lifetime, although an infection in a child may be so mild that it is completely overlooked. The incubation period is two to three weeks.
Infection occurs most commonly in children, and produces a fine rash over the body that lasts only two or three days, is not itchy, and is not accompanied by the sore eyes and cold symptoms associated with common measles. There are often some enlarged lymph nodes at the back of the neck, and in severe cases there may be a fever, runny nose and joint pains.
If a pregnant woman catches the disease between the sixth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy, infection may cause blindness, deafness, heart damage and other serious defects to her child. As a result, an antibody blood test is sometimes done to confirm the disease or determine the immune status of a pregnant woman.
Children must be excluded from school for four days after the rash first appears.
All that is necessary for treatment is paracetamol for fever and discomfort. An effective vaccine is available, and all children are now given mumps, measles and rubella as a combined vaccine at one and four years of age. Once infected with, or vaccinated against rubella, antibody levels rise permanently and reinfection is not possible.