Rubella is a viral infection that can be transmitted through the air. It’s rare in the United States, thanks to vaccinations.

Yes, you can get rubella from breathing in air particles that contain the rubella virus. However, rubella is rare in the United States. Less than 10 cases of rubella are documented each year in the U.S. Since 2012, each rubella case in the United States was originally contracted while the individual was living or traveling outside the United States.

Although rubella is no longer endemic or present in the United States, it is still common in many other countries around the world, so it’s important to be aware of it and the ways it can be transmitted.

If you’ve never heard of rubella before or believe you may have been exposed, you likely have a lot of questions. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, always speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional.

Sometimes called the “German measles” or three-day measles, rubella is a viral infection that can sometimes cause a rash that appears brown, gray, or purple on darker skin tones and red or pink on lighter skin tones. The rash forms across an individual’s body. People of any age can develop it.

Typically, rubella is a fairly mild infection that goes away in about a week, even without any treatments. However, in adults, rubella can sometimes cause eye inflammation or arthritis, but generally these symptoms also resolve.

Rubella can be very serious during pregnancy and cause developmental problems for a growing fetus.

After the introduction of the rubella vaccine, cases decreased in the United States. Rubella was considered eliminated from the United States in 2004.

However, it can still be brought into the United States by travelers since it’s more common in some other countries.

Rubella can be spread when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes. Sharing food or drink with a person who has rubella is another way that it can be transmitted between individuals.

If the virus is contracted during pregnancy, there’s a 90% chance the virus will be passed to the developing fetus, which can cause serious complications.

According to the World Health Organization, the most contagious period for rubella is usually 1 to 5 days after the rash appears. However, individuals without symptoms may transmit rubella unknowingly and rubella may spread up to a week before an individual shows a rash.

Rubella may also remain contagious for up to 7 days after the rash appears in those affected.

For most individuals, vaccination for rubella is a safe and important tool in helping stop the spread of rubella. It’s often combined with vaccines for measles and mumps as well as varicella, the virus that causes chicken pox.

If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated against rubella, you should have your immunity tested. This is especially important if you:

  • intend to become pregnant but are not yet
  • plan to travel to a country that does not offer rubella immunizations
  • work in a medical or educational facility

You should not be vaccinated if you are currently pregnant or have a weakened immune system due to another illness. You should also discuss any prior adverse reactions from vaccinations you’ve had with your doctor before getting the vaccine.

Around 25% to 50% of people who have rubella will not show symptoms. Individuals who have symptoms of rubella typically display a rash that may appear brown, gray, or purple on darker skin tones and pink or red on lighter skin tones. It often begins on the face and then spreads across the body lasting for about 3 days.

Some other signs and symptoms of rubella that might show up a few days before the rash include:

  • low grade fever
  • cough
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • mild pink eye
  • general discomfort

Because many of rubella’s symptoms are common ones associated with a variety of diseases and infections, rubella is typically confirmed through a blood test. Healthcare professionals use this blood test to look for certain antibodies in the blood that show whether you currently have the disease or are immune to it.

Rubella can also be confirmed through a urine test or nasal/throat swab.

There is no specific medication for treating rubella. For many people, the symptoms are mild and a healthcare professional will recommend bed rest along with acetaminophen to help relieve any aches and pains.

You will also want to avoid other people if you could still transmit the virus to others.

Is rubella the same as measles?

Rubella and measles may look similar since they can both include a rash, but they are separate diseases. They are caused by different viruses.

Are there long-term complications of rubella?

In rare cases, rubella can cause bleeding problems and brain infections. According to the CDC, 70% of women who contract rubella experience arthritis.

If you are pregnant and unvaccinated and develop rubella, there’s a risk that you may have a miscarriage or that the baby may die shortly after birth. The baby may also develop a serious condition called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).

When can children get the rubella vaccination?

The CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.

The first dose is recommended between 12 and 15 months old. The second dose is recommended between 4 and 6 years of age. Children may receive the second dose earlier than this, though, as long as it’s given at least 28 days after the first dose.

There’s also another rubella vaccine option for children ages 1 to 12 that includes varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. This vaccine is called the MMRV vaccine — measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox).

The CDC recommends two doses, with the first at age 12–15 months and the second at age 4–6 years old.

While rubella is not constantly present in the United States, it can be brought to the United States when people travel. It can be transmitted when a person with rubella coughs, even before they show a rash.

Because rubella can lead to serious complications and is potentially deadly for developing fetuses, it’s important to take protective measures like getting vaccinated against it.

If you have any questions or concerns about rubella and how to protect yourself from it, it’s important to speak with a doctor.