Rubella is an infectious, but mild viral disease characterized by an eruptive rash which starts on the face and spreads along the rest of the body. In most cases, the disease is relatively harmless, with all symptoms disappearing after a week or so, leaving the patient with a life long immunity. However, in pregnant women, the disease can cause severe birth defects or miscarriage if contracted in the first trimester.
The disease is caused by the spread of discharge from the nose and throat of an infected patient. This discharge carries a load of rubivirus, the viral agent responsible for infection. Symptoms may not emerge for up to one month, as the virus breeds in the body. The rash is usually the first sign, and the patient may also experience a fever and some joint pain. Within three days, the rash is gone, leading some people to refer to the disease as “the three day measles.” In some cases, patients experience lingering joint pain as a result of rubella infection.
The word “rubella” is derived from the Latin word for “red,” a reference to the distinctive rash which accompanies the infection. It may also be called German measles, and it has traditionally been associated with childhood, since most patients acquired the infection as youths, allowing them to resist it as adults. Adults without immunity would, of course, experience full blown symptoms of rubella if they were exposed it, but these symptoms would not usually be dangerous.
Fortunately, a vaccine for rubella was developed in 1969, and children are routinely vaccinated for it in most first world countries. Women who are considering pregnancy may want to consider asking their doctors about taking a titer to ensure they have a healthy population of antibodies to the disease. Since the condition is highly contagious, travelers may be at risk when they visit nations with less stringent vaccination policies, and boosters may be recommended in this case.
In the rare event that someone contracts rubella, the disease is usually allowed to run its course. Medical professionals may ask the patient to stay at home, so he or she does not expose others, especially pregnant women, to the disease. In some cases, aspirin may be given to combat the joint pain; otherwise, no treatment is given other than a recommendation to keep well hydrated and warm. If the fever associated with the condition becomes severe, more serious action may need to be taken to keep the patient healthy.