A young boy running happily through the street.

Rubella is rare in Australia and is usually a mild disease. If an unborn baby is infected, it can cause serious birth defects or miscarriage. Immunisation is recommended to help prevent the spread of the virus to pregnant women. 

Did you know?

  • Rubella is generally a mild disease that causes a rash, swollen glands and joint pain.
  • About 9 out of 10 unborn babies exposed to rubella in the first trimester of pregnancy will have often multiple abnormalities.1
A little girl smiling and laughing at the breakfast table.

What is it?

Rubella, also known as German measles, is caused by the rubella virus. The contagious virus generally causes mild disease, with about half of those infected showing little or no symptoms.1

However, if a pregnant woman becomes infected with rubella (especially during the first trimester), it can lead to serious abnormalities in the developing baby – such as deafness, blindness, heart defects, impaired growth and intellectual disabilities. To help prevent the spread of rubella to pregnant women, immunisation is recommended.

What are the symptoms?

Rubella is generally a mild disease and usually resolves naturally. Rubella symptoms, if they do appear, generally occur 2 to 3 weeks after infection and may include:

  • mild fever
  • swollen glands
  • joint pain
  • runny nose
  • sore eyes
  • a red rash lasting about 3 days which usually appears first on the face then spreads to the rest of the body.

Complications such as lingering joint pain, inflammation (swelling) of the middle ear or the brain or bleeding problems may occur, but are rare.

If an unborn baby is infected with rubella, particularly during the first trimester, they can develop serious birth defects. Rubella can also cause miscarriage.

This is not a full list of symptoms, that can occur following rubella infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about rubella infection.

How is it spread?

Rubella is spread from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. An infected person is contagious for up to a week before the rash appears, and until 4 days after it clears.

Who is at risk?

Since the introduction of rubella vaccination in Australia, rubella is now rare. However, cases and outbreaks can still occur, therefore anyone who is not immune to rubella is at risk of infection, particularly:

  • travellers to areas where rubella immunisation is not widespread
  • childcare workers
  • healthcare workers
  • unborn babies whose mothers have low or no rubella immunity.

Other people may also be at risk of rubella infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • Rubella-containing vaccines are recommended and provided free for children as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Two doses are given, at 12 months and 18 months of age, as combination vaccines that also helps protect against other diseases. Speak to your doctor for more information.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
    • 34
    • 28
    • 29
  • Two doses of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are recommended for anyone who is not immune especially those who work in healthcare or childhood education. If you were born during or after 1966, you should review your immunisation records to make sure you have received two doses or have evidence of immunity. If you are unsure, speak to your doctor.

    Women who are of child-bearing age who are not immune to rubella are strongly recommended to receive rubella-containing vaccine. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please speak to your doctor about whether you should be immunised. You need to wait at least 28 days after receiving the rubella vaccine before you become pregnant. Speak to your doctor for more information.

     Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation may be recommended by experts but is not funded
    Diseases All adults Planning for a baby Pregnancy 65 and over 70 to 79 years Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults
    Chickenpox (varicella)            
     
    Diphtheria            
     
    Hepatitis B            
     
    Measles            
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease            
     
    Meningococcal B disease            
     
    Mumps            
     
    Pneumococcal disease+            
    Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at 50 years of age, with a second dose recommended five years later. All non-Indigenous people can receive a free vaccine at 65 years of age. Women planning pregnancy who have risk factors for pneumococcal disease, including smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, should be assessed for pneumococcal vaccination.
    Rubella            
     
    Shingles (Herpes zoster)+            
    The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine is funded for adults aged 70 years, with a short-term catch-up program for adults aged 71-79. It is also recommended (but not funded) for all adults over 60 years of age.
    Tetanus            
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)            
     
    Annual flu+            
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
    • 18
    • 19
  • If you’re travelling overseas, make sure that you are up to date with your rubella immunisations.

    It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

Treatment

Because it is a viral infection, there is no specific treatment for rubella. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, reducing fever and pain, cold packs to press against swollen glands and reducing the risk of spreading the disease by staying away from others.

Important information

For information about rubella immunisation contact your doctor.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition (2018 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/rubella (accessed September 2018).

AUS/VAC/0088/18 Date of Approval November 2018