Rubella: Make Sure Your Child Gets Vaccinated
Rubella is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It is also called German measles or three-day measles. But don't confuse rubella with measles, which is sometimes called rubeola. The two diseases have similar features, including a red rash, but they are caused by different viruses.
Rubella, whose name means "little red," was thought to be a type of measles until 1814, when German scientists described it as a completely different disease. From 1963 to 1965, a rubella epidemic swept throughout the world. In the United States alone, about 11,000 babies died and 20,000 babies developed birth defects from rubella.
After the rubella vaccine was licensed in 1969, the number of people in the United States who got rubella went down quickly. Rubella vaccine is still used throughout the world today.
Rubella virus can be found in nose and throat secretions, such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus, of infected people. You can spread the virus to others through sneezing or coughing.
In young children, rubella is usually mild, with few noticeable symptoms. They may have a fever and a sore throat. Adults are more likely to have a headache, pink eye, and general discomfort 1 to 5 days before the rash appears. Adults also tend to have more complications, including sore, swollen joints and, less commonly, arthritis, especially in women. A brain infection called encephalitis is a rare but serious complication that can affect adults with rubella. The most serious consequence from rubella infection is the harm it can cause a pregnant woman's baby.
Rubella Is Dangerous for Pregnant Women and Their Babies
Pregnant women who get infected with rubella virus also expose their babies. This can cause serious birth defects such as heart problems, hearing and vision loss, intellectual disability, and liver or spleen damage. Serious birth defects are more common if a woman is infected early in her pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks. Getting rubella infection during pregnancy can also cause a miscarriage or premature delivery.
Read about three babies born in the United States with birth defects and serious health conditions caused by their mothers’ rubella infection during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should not get rubella vaccine. They should wait until after they have given birth to get vaccinated.
If you are planning to get pregnant, make sure you are protected from rubella beforehand. A blood test—an antibody titer—done by your doctor can tell you if you are already immune to rubella. If you are not immune, you should get vaccinated. Wait at least four weeks before getting pregnant.
Children should also be vaccinated on time to prevent rubella from spreading to pregnant women.
MMR Vaccine: Prevents Rubella Disease and Birth Defects
Rubella vaccine is included in the MMR vaccine, which is a combination vaccine that protects you against measles, mumps, and rubella. MMR vaccine is safe and effective and has been widely used in the United States for more than 20 years.
In the United States, 2 doses are recommended for children:
- the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and
- the second dose, before entering school, at 4 through 6 years old.
In 2004, a second combination vaccine, MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella) was licensed. Your child's doctor can help you choose between getting the MMR vaccine and the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine separately or the combination MMRV vaccine.
Vaccinating your child on time is the best way to protect them and others, including pregnant women and their babies, from rubella infection.
MMR Vaccine for Adults: The Responsible Choice
Rubella was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004. However, rubella is still common in other countries. The virus can be brought into the United States at any time by visitors who have rubella. Also, unvaccinated U.S. residents traveling to these countries can become infected and unknowingly bring the disease back home with them.
Anyone born during or after 1957 who has not had rubella or been vaccinated against the disease should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine. If you are not sure if you are protected against rubella, ask your doctor to test your blood to see if you are immune to the disease.
MMR vaccine protects you and those around you from getting infected, and it can protect pregnant women and their babies from serious birth defects and death.
Can I Get Help Paying for Vaccines?
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. However, you may want to check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. Learn how to pay for vaccines.
If you don't have health insurance or if your insurance does not cover vaccines for your child, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program may be able to help. This program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. To learn more, visit the VFC website or ask your child's doctor. You can also contact your state VFC coordinator.
- Rubella Disease Basics [PDF - 408 KB]
- Rubella Vaccination
- Vaccine Information Statement in English: MMR and MMRV
- Vaccine Information Statements in other languages: MMR and MMRV
- Adult Immunization Schedule (anyone over 18 years old)
- Recommended Immunizations for Children from Birth through 6 Years Old [PDF - 722 KB]
- Page last reviewed: January 13, 2014
- Page last updated: January 13, 2014
- Content source:
- National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs