Rubella in Babies

What you need to know about German measles, including its risks to baby, how to treat it and even how to prevent baby from getting it.
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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What is rubella in a baby?

Rubella (also called German measles) is a nonserious disease caused by a virus. Affected kids typically have a red, spotty rash that lasts about three days; they may also have a fever and joint pain.

Rubella doesn’t usually cause any problems for babies and toddlers, but it can cause serious problems for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby if she catches it. “The reason we immunize against rubella is because it can cause serious risk to a fetus. If a pregnant woman gets infected, her infant is at a very high risk for a variety of birth defects, including heart defects, brain abnormalities, cataracts and deafness,” says Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

What are the symptoms of rubella in babies?

A red, spotty, somewhat blotchy rash is the most familiar sign. Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes (especially on the back of the neck) and a mild fever.

Are there any tests for rubella in babies?

Yep. Baby’s doctor might use a giant cotton swab to get a sample from his mouth or nose. It will be analyzed for the presence of rubella infection.

If rubella is going around in your area, the doc may also want to get a blood sample from you, your partner and any other kids you have in order to check your immunity status — even if you’ve been vaccinated against it. If your immunity is low, the doctor may recommend you get another dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

How common is rubella in babies?

Rubella is not nearly as common as it once was. In 2008, there were only 16 reported cases of rubella in the US.

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How did my baby get rubella?

An unimmunized child is much more likely to contract rubella than one who’s fully immunized. The disease spreads through the air, so if your unimmunized kid is ever near active rubella, there’s a good chance your child will become infected. And unfortunately, rubella is contagious for up to a week before the rash appears, so it’s totally possible to be exposed before anyone (even the child’s parents!) realizes he could be spreading it.

What’s the best way to treat rubella in babies?

Once your child is ill, there’s not much you can do besides keep him comfortable. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given as needed to decrease aches, pains and fever.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting rubella?

Immunize! A highly effective vaccine for rubella has been available since 1969. Since then, rubella has gone from a childhood rite of passage to a rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a first dose of rubella vaccine between the ages of 12 and 15 months, with a second dose between the ages of four and six. The rubella vaccination is usually given as part of the combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine or the measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (MMRV) vaccine.

Some parents are still leery of rubella vaccination because of news reports linking MMR immunizations with autism. But note that medical research has found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The one 1998 paper that suggested a link — and led to controversy about the MMR vaccine — was formally retracted by The Lancet, the medical journal that published it, in 2010. The author of the paper also lost his medical license.

If you have any questions or concerns about the vaccine, talk to your doctor.

What do other moms do when their babies have rubella?

“[My son] has had a low fever since Thursday, and he’s had no appetite since Friday, plus a bit of diarrhea, and wanted to be held all the time. When I was changing his diaper yesterday, I noticed red dots all over his body. I thought they were an allergic reaction. So just in case, we took him to urgent care, and the doctor gave him Benadryl to see if they would go away. Well, they didn’t go away, so the doctor said that it could be German measles, based on his symptoms. He’s not itchy or anything; it’s just red dots everywhere. It doesn’t get in his face, and he still has a low fever.”

Are there any other resources for rubella in babies?

The Bump expert: Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Children’s Medical Center, Dallas

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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