Published on August 10, 2020 at 8:00 / Updated on September 23, 2020 at 16:37

Rubella is a contagious disease caused by a virus. Thanks to routine immunization, cases of rubella in Canada are extremely rare. However, it's still a very common disease in some countries. It's therefore possible for travellers who are not vaccinated to bring it back with them after catching it abroad.

Rubella generally occurs in children. In most cases, children who become infected have no symptoms. When they do present symptoms, they may experience the following:

  • Fever
  • Red eyes
  • Joint pain
  • A rosy rash that appears on the face and spreads all over the body, lasting 3 days
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck

In adolescents and adults who catch the virus, symptoms can be more severe. Joint pain is more frequent and severe than in children. Symptoms appear 14–23 days after exposure to the virus.

Rubella can have serious consequences for pregnant women. If a pregnant woman catches rubella, it can cause significant harm to her unborn child, especially if the disease occurs early in pregnancy. There are several possible consequences:

  • A serious heart condition
  • Mental retardation
  • Deafness
  • Vision problems
  • Death

Causes and triggers

Rubella is caused by a virus. It is spread through secretions from the nose and throat of an infected person. The virus can therefore be transmitted in two ways:

  • Direct contact with an infected person (e.g., kissing)
  • Indirect contact via droplets coughed into the air by an infected person

It can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.

Rubella is highly contagious in the days preceding and following the appearance of the rash. Infected individuals can also transmit the disease without having symptoms.

People with rubella develop immunity to the virus and can therefore catch it only once.

Treatment

There is no cure for rubella. The disease usually resolves on its own after 3 days without causing lasting damage. Medicines may be used to control the fever (e.g., Advil, Tylenol). Treatment recommendations also include resting and staying hydrated.

People with rubella should stay home for up to 7 days after the rash emerges to avoid transmitting the disease. They should be particularly careful to avoid coming into contact with pregnant women. The best way to prevent rubella is to get vaccinated.

It is recommended that all women of childbearing age be vaccinated against rubella before they conceive. The rubella vaccine cannot be administered during pregnancy.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider in the following situations:

  • You want to get pregnant and are not sure if you've been vaccinated against rubella
  • You are pregnant and have come into contact with someone who has rubella
  • You are pregnant and have symptoms of rubella
For more information:
Canadian Paediatric Society
www.cps.ca
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