What is rubella?

Rubella (German measles) is a viral infection. In healthy individuals it is usually a mild disease. However, if a woman gets rubella during the first three months of pregnancy, it is very likely to result in miscarriage or a baby born with congenital anomalies known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). CRS can lead to deafness, cataracts and learning disabilities in the baby.

At a glance: Rubella in Europe

  • Disease of the skin caused by a virus
  • Rubella spreads through the air
  • If a woman is infected within three months of becoming pregnant it can cause lifelong consequences for the foetus or miscarriage 
  • Around 100 cases every year
  • Vaccination prevents rubella and the complications it causes

Find out more about rubella vaccines in your country.

Symptoms of rubella

What are the symptoms of rubella?

Up to 50% of people infected with rubella do not experience symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • red rash;
  • swollen lymph glands around the ears and the back of the head;
  • pain and inflammation of the joints in adults.

What are the complications of rubella?

The consequences for unvaccinated pregnant women that get rubella are particularly severe, due to the likelihood that contracting the disease during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or CRS in their babies.

family illustration

How is rubella spread?

The rubella virus is spread via airborne droplets produced when the infected person coughs and sneezes.

Who is at risk of rubella?

Anyone who has not had the disease or who has not been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine is at risk of contracting rubella.

Baby being vaccinated

How can rubella be prevented?

The only protection against rubella is vaccination. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The MMR vaccine is safe and effective and has very few side effects. Mild reactions such as fever, redness or swelling at the injection site have been reported. Some vaccine recipients develop a non-infectious mild measles-like rash, typically 7-14 days after vaccination, which disappears within 1-3 days.

Two doses of the vaccine are needed for maximum protection. The first dose is given between 10 and 18 months of age in most European countries. The second dose can be given one month or more after the first dose, in accordance with the national vaccination schedule.

Women who plan to become pregnant should check their vaccination status, as they cannot be vaccinated against rubella during pregnancy.

How is rubella treated?

There is no specific treatment for rubella. Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms.


For more information check the ECDC website:

Note: The information contained in this factsheet is intended for the purpose of general information and should not be used as a substitute for the individual expertise and judgement of a healthcare professional.

More factsheets

Chickenpox (varicella)

Key facts on chickenpox (varicella), symptoms, complications, risk factors, how it spreads, prevention, and treatment.


Key facts on diphtheria, symptoms, complications, risk factors, how it spreads, prevention, and treatment.

Page last updated 13 Mar 2020