Rubella (also known as German measles) is a rare viral illness that causes a spotty rash. It usually causes a mild illness, but can be is serious if a pregnant woman catches the disease, especially during the first 3 months of her pregnancy. A mother can pass rubella on to her unborn baby.


Rubella is usually a mild viral illness – but if a pregnant woman catches it, it can lead to birth defects in her unborn baby.

Rubella is spread through the air by breathing, coughing and sneezing.

If you’ve caught rubella, it takes 14–23 days before you get sick. You’ll be infectious from 7 days before the rash appears until 7 days after.

A few cases of rubella occur in New Zealand each year.

Stop rubella spreading

If you have rubella you must stay away from school, early childhood centres and work for 7 days from the appearance of the rash. This will help prevent the spread of rubella in your community.


Rubella and Women thumbnail
Rubella & Women
Available on HealthEd.

Childhood Immunisation booklet.
Childhood Immunisation
Available from HealthEd.


Half of all people who get rubella may not have any symptoms.

If a child has rubella, the symptoms are:

  • a rash on the face, scalp and body
  • fever
  • swollen glands.

In teenagers and adults, there is usually 1–5 days of malaise, fever, runny nose and cough. This is followed by symptoms of:

  • a rash on the face, scalp and body
  • swollen glands
  • joint pain.


There are no specific treatments for rubella and symptoms usually go away after a few days. To ease your symptoms:

  • have plenty of rest
  • use pain relief, such as paracetamol to reduce pain and discomfort
  • drink lots of fluids.



Getting immunised before pregnancy is the best way to protect unborn children from rubella.

All children in New Zealand can be immunised against rubella as part of their free childhood immunisations at 12 months and 15 months old.

All women of child-bearing age can be screened to see whether they’re immune to rubella at no cost. If you’re not immune, you’re eligible for free rubella vaccine.


The best protection against rubella is the free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, part of the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule.

The brand of MMR vaccine used in New Zealand is Priorix. The Medsafe website has more information to download about Priorix (PDF, 52KB).

From 1 October 2020 the MMR vaccine was moved from being given at 15 months and 4 years to being given at 12 months and 15 months.

Risks associated with rubella

  • For women in early pregnancy, 85% of babies infected during the first 8 weeks after conception will have a major congenital abnormality such as deafness, blindness, brain damage, or a heart defect. This declines to about 10–20% by 16 weeks of the pregnancy.
  • About 1 in 3000 patients gets thrombocytopaenia (low platelets causing bruising or bleeding).
  • 1 in 6000 develops encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). This usually occurs in young adults. This may result in death.

Risks associated with the vaccine

  • Joint symptoms may occur in 0–3% of children vaccinated. This is mild and short-lasting.

Immunisation is your choice. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or practice nurse or call the Immunisation Advisory Centre free helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).

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