German Measles (Rubella) – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Rubella, which is commonly referred to as German measles, is a viral infection that is not seen as often as the other childhood infections like measles and chickenpox. Usually the symptoms are mild and may not be easily recognised. German measles infection only lasts for a few days so this can also be confusing to a parent. However the major risk with German measles is to pregnant women since this infection can cause birth defects.

Causes of Rubella

Despite its name, German measles is not related to measles. There may be some similar symptoms but the virus that causes rubella is different from the virus that causes measles. The rubella virus is transmitted through saliva or mucus when an infected person coughs or sneeze. Do not depend on a rash to assess how contagious a person is – the infection is present about 1 to 2 weeks before the rash appears and can last for another 2 weeks after the rash disappears.

Rubella is a mild infection and complications from this infection is rare compared to measles or mumps. However pregnant women have to be very cautious and are best advised to have the MMR vaccine before conceiving in order to reduce the risks associated with the German measles infection in pregnancy.

Signs and Symptoms of German Measles

  • Fever which is mild (usually less than 39 degrees Celsius).
  • Headache.
  • ‘Pink’ eye (inflamed, red eyes).
  • Swollen lymph nodes on the neck and behind the ears.
  • Muscle aches and joint pains.
  • Red skin rash that is fine like tiny dots or small spots.

Click here to see a picture of the rubella rash.

Complications in Pregnancy

Complications can arise in children or adults due to German measles infection but this is rare. Some of the complications may include an ear infection (otitis media), persistent joint pain or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

The main concern about complications due to rubella is in pregnant women. Infants born to mothers who contracted rubella in the first trimester of pregnancy will in most cases develop complications due to the infection. These birth defects may range from organ defects, growth and mental retardation, hearing and visual disorders and is known as congenital rubella syndrome.

Treatment and Prevention of Rubella

There is no drug that will ‘cure’ rubella once you have it. Your body will deal with the infection and once you have overcome it, you will have immunity against rubella for life. Bed rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluids will assist your body in recovering from the infection. You may use paracetamol during this time but avoid aspirin in children and teenagers or a serious complication known as Reye’s syndrome may arise.

If you have not had the German measles vaccine as yet, then you should consider it immediately especially if you plan to fall pregnant soon. For women planning to fall pregnant or those who are pregnant, your doctor may request a blood test to verify your immunity to rubella. Most of the time you are immune to rubella, either due to a vaccination in childhood or if you contracted the infection earlier in life, but if you are not immune, you will need the vaccine as soon as possible.

Parents who are opting for complementary medicine for their children should remember that the only way to prevent German measles is through vaccination or natural immunity after having the infection. You may use alternative medicines like homeopathy during the infection but do not prevent your child from getting vaccinated. This can prove to be a problem, especially for females later in life. The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is widely used these days and any supposed link to autism is totally unfounded.