Rubella, also known as German measles or 3-day measles, is a contagious viral infection. The infection appears as a red rash on the face, trunk, and limbs, and then disappears a few days later. Before a rubella vaccine became available in 1969, outbreaks of the disease occurred every 6 to 9 years. Now rubella is rare in locations where vaccination is standard practice. In the United States, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR, given to children twice before they reach school age, has led to the eradication of the disease. However, it is important for parents to make sure their children are vaccinated. If a pregnant woman contracts rubella, the virus can cause serious birth defects or even be fatal to the fetus.
What Causes It?
Rubella is caused by a virus. It can be spread in airborne droplets, such as from a cough or sneeze, from an infected person. Individuals can be contagious for as long as 1 week before a rash appears and up to 1 week after it disappears. Infants with congenital rubella syndrome (see Special Considerations section) may spread rubella virus in respiratory secretions and urine for up to 2 years.
Who is Most At Risk?
These factors increase the risk for rubella:
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms are usually mild. In up to half of all cases, the disease is so mild that symptoms are hard to identify. The most distinctive sign of rubella is swollen lymph nodes behind the ear, in the neck, and at the back of the head. A pink rash is usually the first sign in younger children. In older children and adults, it is more common to have a low-grade fever, malaise (feeling unwell), loss of appetite, swollen glands, and upper respiratory infection for 1 to 5 days before the onset of full blown disease.
Other signs and symptoms include:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will perform an exam to look for common signs and symptoms, and may perform blood tests or culture a sample of fluid from the nose or throat to check for the rubella virus.
The rubella vaccine causes immunity in 90 to 99% of those who receive it. Children should receive 2 doses [usually as part of the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine] at least 4 weeks apart. Anyone born in or after 1957 should have at least one dose of MMR. People born before 1957 are considered immune. Women of childbearing age should still be vaccinated prior to becoming pregnant, or take a lab test to see if they are immune to the virus, even if they were born before 1957. (Having had rubella makes a person immune for life.)
In the past, some news reports have raised concerns about whether the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. However, a population-based study investigating a potential association between the incidence of autism and the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the United States and Britain found no link between the two, and reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have found the vaccine to be safe. It is more likely that, since autism is usually diagnosed between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, the same time children receive the MMR vaccine, the timing caused questions about whether the events were related. Nevertheless, some scientists maintain the possibility that the MMR vaccine is the triggering event in a small subset of people. One study found increased levels of measles antibody in immunized children with autism compared to those without the disorder. Scientists say the presence of the anitbody could indicate a hyper immune response to measles in children with autism.
Rubella vaccine should not be given to anyone who:
There is no specific therapy to fight the rubella virus. Treatment is supportive, and the infection generally resolves on its own. Complications are rare. Individual symptoms, such as fever, arthritis, and joint pain, may be treated.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
The MMR vaccine is the only effective prevention against rubella. No CAM method offers any immunity, but some alternative therapies may help alleviate symptoms of rubella. Anyone suspected of having contracted rubella should visit a conventional medical practitioner immediately.
No clinical trials have investigated the use of specific foods or nutrients to treat rubella. However, the following nutrients may be used to support the immune system in general. Check with your doctor to determine the proper dose for a child, and do not treat your child without medical supervision.
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce risks:
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
Herbs are generally available as standardized, dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures/liquid extracts (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Mix liquid extracts with favorite beverage. Dose for teas is 1 to 2 heaping tsp/cup water steeped for 10 to 15 minutes (roots need longer).
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for rubella based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type, includes your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Electroacupuncture (in which acupuncture points are stimulated with electrodes) successfully treated two cases of visual and hearing impairments linked to congenital rubella syndrome (see Special Considerations section). Acupuncture may also help relieve joint pain.
Therapeutic massage may help relieve joint pain.
Most people who have rubella recover completely without permanent side effects and are immune to rubella afterward. This is not the case for a fetus infected in the womb. Fetal infection can cause serious long-term effects (see Special Considerations section).
Complications are more common in adults than children and may include:
If a fetus is infected with rubella in the womb, this can cause severe defects known as congenital rubella syndrome. The younger the fetus is at the time of infection, the more likely the syndrome is to occur and the more severe effects are likely to be. Temporary effects of congenital rubella syndrome may include:
Permanent effects of congenital rubella syndrome may include:
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Review Date: 3/25/2015
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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