Immunisation & Vaccine Preventable Diseases

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Immunisation and Vaccines

Rubella

General Information | Surveillance & Epidemiology | Vaccination

Introduction

Rubella is an acute infection caused by rubella virus. It is generally a mild illness, but if acquired by women in early pregnancy (in the first 16 weeks) can have devastating effects on the unborn child, leading to congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). The virus can affect all foetal organs and lead to serious birth defects. These include learning difficulties, cataracts, deafness, cardiac abnormalities, retardation of intrauterine growth and inflammatory lesions of the brain, liver, lungs and bone marrow.

The infection may begin with a prodromal illness with a low-grade fever, malaise, mild conjunctivitis and coryza. Swelling of the lymph nodes behind the ear and back of the neck may also occur before the onset of the rash. The rash is erythematous and transitory and mostly localised behind the ears and on the face and neck.  

The disease is spread by droplet transmission and the incubation period is 14 to 21 days with the rash developing 14 to 17 days after exposure. Cases are considered infectious from one week before the start of symptoms and are most infectious in one to five days after the onset of the rash.

Non-foetal complications include thrombocytopaenia (approximately 1 in 3000 cases), arthritis and arthralgia in adults, especially women, and encephalitis (approximately 1 in 6000 cases), which can be fatal.

Vaccination with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective strategy for preventing rubella transmission. 

Information Resources   

Department of Health

Health Protection Management

Congenital Rubella Surveillance

Public Information