Rubella is a rash illness caused by the rubella virus. It's generally a mild illness, but if acquired by women in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy 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 such as:

  • learning difficulties
  • cataracts
  • deafness
  • cardiac abnormalities
  • restriction of intrauterine growth
  • inflammatory lesions of the brain, liver, lungs and bone marrow 

For more information on the symptoms and treatment of rubella, visit NHS Inform.


For all infection prevention and control guidance visit the A-Z ​pathogens section of the National Infection and Prevention Control Manual.

Data and surveillance

Surveillance update for April to June 2020

Before the introduction of rubella vaccination, more than 80% of adults had evidence of previous exposure to rubella. A vaccination programme targeting girls and non-immune women of childbearing age was introduced in the UK in 1970 which reduced the number of CRS births and terminations. In 1988, the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was introduced for both boys and girls and further decreased cases of rubella to near elimination levels (Figure 1).

No laboratory-confirmed cases of rubella have been reported to HPS in 2020 to date – the last reported case of laboratory-confirmed rubella in Scotland was in 2017.

Figure 1: Number of laboratory-confirmed cases of rubella in Scotland by year, 1988 to 2020 (to week 26)

Figure 1 is a line chart showing the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of rubella reported in Scotland by year from 1988 through 30 June 2020. The figure shows that the number of cases of rubella fluctuated each year between 1988 and 1995. The number of cases peaked in 1996 at 766 but decreased dramatically in 1997 before rising slightly to 47 cases in 1999. Since 1999, the number of cases has been low and stable. No laboratory-confirmed cases of rubella have been reported in Scotland since 2017, when one case was reported. The graph is also annotated with relevant time points in rubella vaccination, with the MMR vaccine introduced in 1988, the measles/rubella campaign initiated in 1994, and the second dose of MMR added to the vaccine schedule in 1996.


Congenital rubella surveillance

Congenital rubella surveillance can be viewed on the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) website.


Vaccination uptake

Vaccine uptake statistics are published by Public Health Scotland Data and Intelligence.