5 Symptoms Of Rubella In Children, Treatment And Prevention

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The rubella virus causes a contagious viral infection known as rubella. While rubella in children is usually a mild condition, it can cause major complications in unborn babies if their mothers contract it during pregnancy.

It spreads through droplets or direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus and is also known as German measles or three-day measles. Rubella causes a red rash all over the body, one of the most noticeable signs.

Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms of rubella in kids as well as treatment options and preventative strategies.

Symptoms Of Rubella

The symptoms of pediatric rubella infection are usually mild; the rash would appear two to three weeks after the exposure to the virus. Some common symptoms of rubella in children include (1) (2):

  1. Red-colored spotty rash that start on the face and neck and progress downward (rashes last for one to three days)
  1. Swollen lymph glands behind the ears and in the neck
Swollen lymph glands characterize rubella in children

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  1. Low fever with a body temperature of less than 39℃
  1. Nausea and mild conjunctivitis
  1. Soreness and inflammation of joints (more common in older children and adolescents)

Once a child is infected, the virus spreads through the body in five to seven days. The child may spread the virus one week before the onset of rash and remain contagious up to seven days after the rash appears. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 25% to 50% of people do not develop a rash or any symptoms (3).

A woman infected with rubella during early pregnancy (before 10 weeks are completed) has a 90% chance of passing the virus to the fetus. The virus may cause a miscarriage, or the fetus may develop congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) (1). Anyone with rubella or exposure to a known case of rubella should not come in direct contact with a pregnant woman.

Congenital Rubella Syndrome

Babies born with CRS suffer from many congenital disabilities. Some common disabilities associated with congenital rubella syndrome include the classical triad of cataract, heart defects and deafness. The following are usually seen in neonatal period and are transient (1) (2) (4):

  • Low birth weight
Congenital rubella syndrome is characterized by low birth weight

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  • Low platelets
  • Anemia
  • Enlargement of liver and spleen
  • Inflammation of brain and meninges

Longer lasting or permanent manifestations include:

  • Hearing impairments
  • Eye defects such as cataract, glaucoma, retinal damage, small eye
  • Heart defects such as patent ductus arteriosus and pulmonary hypertension
  • Autism
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Mental retardation
  • Delayed growth

As some of these impairments are lifelong and require therapies and surgeries, women of childbearing age are advised to take the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccination. However, it is not advisable to vaccinate pregnant women. Vaccine should be taken at least four weeks before planning a pregnancy.

Who Is At A Higher Risk For Rubella?

Anyone who does not have immunity against rubella is at risk of developing rubella. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the highest risk of CRS is in women of childbearing age who do not have immunity to the disease (1).

Diagnosis And Treatment For Rubella

Children with rubella should take enough rest.

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Your child’s doctor might diagnose rubella based on physical examination and the child’s medical history. The doctor might further recommend blood or urine tests to confirm the diagnosis (5).

Since rubella is a viral infection, there is no cure for it. It is best to vaccinate children and women in child bearing age beforehand. If your child is infected with the rubella virus, your doctor might recommend the following.

  • Increased intake of fluids
  • Adequate rest
  • Isolation to prevent the spread of the virus
  • Over-the-counter medications to reduce the severity of the symptoms (5)

Children might recover from rubella within a week.

The caretaker should always wash and disinfect the infected child’s clothes and dry them under the sun. The child should be instructed to sneeze by covering their nose and mouth. Such precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of the infection.

Prevention Of Rubella

MMR vaccination can help prevent rubella infection

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The best way to prevent the infection is through vaccination. The vaccine for rubella is a live attenuated strain, and a single dose can give long-lasting immunity to more than 95% of children (6). The vaccine is available in monovalent (single vaccine for rubella) form and is also administered in combination with other vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, in rare cases, children can get rubella even if they had been vaccinated or had a previous rubella infection (7).

According to the CDC, all children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose should be given at 12–15 months of age, and the second dose at 4–6 years of age. Children can also receive the second dose 28 days after the first dose (8). In India, the first dose is given at 9 months and second at 15 months. It has recently been added to national immunization schedule and is to be given in combination with measles vaccine.

Possible Side Effects Of The Vaccine

The vaccine may lead to redness at the injection site.

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There may be mild adverse reactions after the vaccination, including pain and redness at the injection area, low-grade fever, rash, and muscle aches (1).

However, children with the following conditions should consider vaccination only after consulting a doctor (8).

  • Children with life-threatening allergies and a weak immune system due to HIV or cancer and children undergoing medical treatments such as radiation, immunotherapy, steroids, or chemotherapy
  • Children with a family history of immune system problems
  • Children who had a condition that makes them bleed or bruise easily
  • Children who have tuberculosis or had other live vaccines in the past four weeks
  • Children who are ill

Rubella in children is a benign viral infection, but it can have serious consequences if a woman is infected during pregnancy. Infected children may develop symptoms such as a reddish-brown spotty rash, swollen lymph glands behind the ears and in the neck, low body temperature, and so on, and can spread the infection for up to seven days. Rubella has no known cure, but immunization is the most effective way to prevent it. If your child has been diagnosed with rubella, keep them away from the other children and family members and take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

Key Pointers

  • Rubella is a mild form of skin infection in babies.
  • Mild fever, nausea, and inflammation of the joints are common symptoms.
  • If rubella is left untreated in a pregnant woman, it can lead to complications.
  • Babies born with CRS are prone to having congenital disabilities such as anemia and low birth weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long is rubella contagious?

Yes. Rubella is contagious when the rashes start to appear. This could be seven days before to seven days after the symptoms are seen. Rubella is the most contagious when the rashes erupt (9).

2. How long does it take to recover from rubella?

Children with rubella may usually recover from the infection within seven to ten days. The symptoms might go away in a few days, but the glands may remain swollen a few weeks after the infection (10).

3. Are mumps and rubella the same?

No, mumps or rubella are different viral infections. The mumps mainly causes the inflammation of the salivary gland. On the other hand, rubella causes mild fever and rashes. Although these viral infections are different, they can be prevented through the MMR vaccine, which also protects against measles (11).

Infographic: More About Signs And Prevention Of Rubella

Rubella is an infectious condition whose spread can be controlled using simple safety measures. If your child is exposed to the infection-causing pathogens and exhibits these signs, get them evaluated and follow these steps to prevent further disease transmission.

signs and prevention of rubella in children [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team


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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different...
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Dr. Pooja Parikh

Dr. Pooja Parikh is a pediatrician whose medical journey has taken her from Rajkot (PDUMC) to Vadodara (SSGH) to Mumbai (Hinduja & Breachcandy Hospital). Currently she is actively involved in critical, intensive and general care of 0 to 18-year-olds in the port town of Gandhidham, where she was born and brought up. She believes that a doctor should be involved...
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