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rubella; German; measles; pregnancy; birth; defects; congenital; heart; blind; blindness; deaf; deafness;

Rubella is usually a mild illness. However it can cause serious harm to an unborn baby if a woman gets it during early pregnancy. For this reason all children are now immunised against rubella.


What is rubella?

  • Rubella (also called German Measles) is a viral infection which can cause a mild illness, with a rise in temperature and a fine raised red rash over the whole body, starting on the face.
  • Rubella is now rare in countries such as Australia, but it is still a common cause of miscarriages and stillbirth, congenital blindness, deafness, brain damage and heart problems in countries where immunisation is not available. (Congenital means present at birth.)

Signs and symptoms

  • Between 25% and 50% of people who get a rubella infection either do not have any illness, or they have a very mild illness which they do not know is rubella.
  • Some kids get a rash and swollen glands in the neck, behind the ears and in the scalp at the back of the head, but don’t really feel sick.
  • Some kids feel a bit ‘off’ for one or more days before the rash comes. The glands in the neck and behind the ears will be swollen, and they may have signs of a 'cold'.
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen may help if there is headache and fever, or sore joints. 


  • The rash and swollen glands could be rubella, or they could be caused by many other viral infections. The only way to be sure that it is rubella is to do blood tests.
    • To tell whether the infection has been recent, two blood tests will need to be done about 28 days apart to see if there is a change in the levels of rubella antibodies (proteins formed by the body to fight infections).

Rubella during pregnancy

  • If women get rubella during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, about 90% of the developing babies will be harmed by the virus. This can include miscarriage, still birth, brain damage, deafness, vision problems, or heart problems. This is called Congenital Rubella Syndrome.
  • All pregnant women who are exposed to rubella need to see their doctor urgently.

Rubella immunisation

  • Two doses of rubella vaccine, combined with measles and mumps vaccines, in the form of MMR, are recommended for all children in Australia when they are 12 months old and 4 years old.

Josh says:

"If you were born in Australia and go to school here, you will probably have had rubella immunisation. Rubella doesn’t seem too bad, but the problems it can cause to unborn kids are awful. Why take the risk?"


Department of Health, South Australia
'Rubella (German measles

National Health and Medical Research Council.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th Edition’

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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