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Rubella in babies and children

4-minute read

What is rubella?

Rubella is a contagious disease and is also known as German measles or three-day measles. It is not, however, the same disease as measles.

Rubella is caused by the rubella virus, which is uncommon among Australian children because of our effective vaccination program. Rubella is a mild disease, and is not usually dangerous for children, but can be very dangerous for pregnant women, as rubella can cause miscarriage or abnormalities for their unborn babies.

What are the symptoms of rubella?

The best-known symptom of rubella is a pink or red rash. The rash may appear in the form of many small dots which together form a larger, reddened area. The rash usually appears first on a child’s face then spreads to their neck, upper body, arms and legs. It can last for up to 5 days and may or may not be itchy. As the rash begins to fade, it may start to flake.

Other symptoms of rubella include:

  • fever, sore throat and a runny nose
  • generally feeling unwell
  • swollen glands (especially at the back of a child’s neck and behind their ears)

Symptoms generally begin to show between 14 and 21 days after a child has been infected with the virus. However, 1 in 2 people who have rubella do not show any symptoms at all, so your child may have rubella without showing or feeling any signs or symptoms.

How does rubella spread?

Rubella spreads through exposure to the droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can travel through the air and contaminate others.

A child who has rubella can infect others from 1 week before the rash is visible, up until 1 week after the rash appears. To prevent the spread of the virus, it is important to keep a sick child at home and away from other children. If your child has rubella, do not send them to childcare, kindergarten or school where they could infect others. Try and teach your child the importance of sneezing and coughing into their elbow since this helps prevent the spread of the virus.

It is especially important to keep a child who may be sick with rubella away from pregnant woman because the virus can be very dangerous for their unborn baby. Ensure that you and your family are observing good hygiene practices, including washing hands both properly and frequently.

How should I care for my child at home?

While there is no specific treatment for rubella, it is important to give your child lots of fluids and allow them to rest. You can give your child paracetamol to help relieve discomfort, pain or fever. Refer to the package for proper dosage instructions, based on your child’s weight and age.

Does my child need to see a doctor?

If you think your child has rubella, you should take them to see a doctor to confirm a diagnosis. Be sure to notify the receptionist before you come that your child may have rubella, so you can wait at a safe distance from any other patients who may be at risk.

How can I protect my child from catching rubella?

The best way to prevent your child from catching rubella is through on-time vaccination. Vaccinating your child can also protect those around you, such as other family members who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated. The more people in a community who receive the rubella vaccination, the more protected the community will be against the virus.

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Immunisation and vaccinations for your child

Immunisation and vaccinations for your child

Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children agaist certain diseases. Discover more about childhood vaccinations.

The rubella vaccine is given in 2 doses, at 12 months and 18 months of age. Under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), these vaccinations are free at these ages. However, if your child has not received one or both of these vaccinations at the recommended age, they should get vaccinated as soon as they can. Under the NIP, they are eligible to receive a free catch-up vaccination against rubella up until 20 years of age.

Are you pregnant or planning a pregnancy?
Learn more about how rubella during pregnancy can affect you and your baby.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

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Need more information?

German measles (rubella)

German measles, also known as rubella, is a mild viral illness. It is a different disease to measles. Most people recover quickly from this infection.

Read more on WA Health website

Rubella (German measles)

Rubella is a viral infection and is sometimes called German measles, although it is not related to measles itself. Most people with rubella experience a mild illness involving fever and rash. It is important as rubella illness during pregnancy may significantly affect the developing foetus.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Rubella or German measles in children | Raising Children Network

Rubella or German measles is a viral illness. Immunisation protects your child from rubella, but see your GP if you think your child has rubella symptoms.

Read more on website

Rubella in Australia

Rubella (also known German measles) is a viral disease. For most people, a rubella infection causes mild illness of fever, rash and swollen lymph glands.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website

Rubella (German measles) | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Find out how we define and monitor cases of rubella, how you can get vaccinated, and where you can learn more about this disease.

Read more on Department of Health and Aged Care website

Childhood rashes -

Distinguish between the childhood rashes of rubella (German measles), measles, chickenpox and fifth disease ('slapped cheek' disease).

Read more on myDr website

Rubella and pregnancy

Find out about the symptoms of rubella, what can happen if you catch rubella before pregnancy or while pregnant, and how to protect yourself against infection.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Rubella - Better Health Channel

Rubella is a mild illness for most people, but very dangerous for pregnant women and their babies.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Rubella virus test - Pathology Tests Explained

Why and when to get tested for rubella serology

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Rubella fact sheet - Fact sheets

Rubella is caused by infection with a virus. Infection is usually mild, but can cause serious damage to unborn babies. Immunisation is recommended for all children at 12 months and 18 months of age.

Read more on NSW Health website

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