Rubella – a great danger for the unborn child

Rubella - a great danger for the unborn child

In children, rubella is usually harmless. They often go unnoticed because they don’t show any noticeable symptoms. However, they can pose a serious risk to pregnant women and their unborn children. Rubella is a classic childhood disease and, like measles and chickenpox, is caused by viruses, but they are not quite as contagious. They are transmitted by droplet infection when sneezing, coughing or speaking. However, the disease will take another 14-21 days to break out. Those affected are already a week before and a week after contagious when the rash appears. The disease goes unnoticed in about half of childhood infections because there are no recognizable symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The disease usually begins with cold-like symptoms such as cough and runny nose, possibly conjunctivitis. The lymph nodes in the neck swell and hurt. A day or two later, the bright red, finely patchy rash appears behind the ears and then spreads to the entire body via the face, neck, arms and legs.

The children can get a slight fever, rarely itching, but they usually only feel slightly sick. The rash will go away in two to three days. Once infected, you are immune for life.


How does the doctor make a diagnosis?

The doctor tries to make a diagnosis based on the child’s appearance. That’s not always easy because rubella can be mistaken for other childhood diseases, such as scarlet fever or measles.

How is it treated?

There is no particular therapy. Only the symptoms that occur are treated.



Rare complications, but more frequent with increasing age, are, for example, ear, brain and joint infections. Rubella is particularly feared during pregnancy: an infection transmitted by the mother via the placenta (placenta) causes severe damage to the unborn child (heart defects, deafness, blindness, mental disabilities) and can trigger premature birth or miscarriage . Frequency and severity depend on the time of infection during pregnancy. The risk is most significant in the first four months of pregnancy.


  • A sick child should not come into contact with pregnant women who have not had rubella or who are not vaccinated.
  • Women who want children should have their doctor do a blood test for antibodies against the rubella virus and get vaccinated if they are not protected.

Pregnant women and rubella

If an (unvaccinated) pregnant woman has contact with an infected person or suspects that she has already been infected, a blood test should be carried out immediately. If she has been infected, a particular antibody preparation must be given as quickly as possible.

In addition, it can be examined whether the fetus has been infected. This is done via a chorionic biopsy (tissue removed from the placenta) or an amniocentesis; from the 22nd week of pregnancy, the umbilical cord blood of the fetus can also be tested. These examinations can only be carried out by experienced experts.


preventive measures

Vaccination in infancy offers adequate protection for both girls and boys. In Germany (FRG), the rubella vaccination was introduced in 1974. It has been recommended since 1980 by the STIKO (standing vaccination committee at the Robert Koch Institute) as a combination vaccination with measles and mumps (MMR vaccination).

As a rule, it is carried out between the 12th and 15th month of life and a second time in the 2nd year of life, at the earliest four weeks after the first. This second vaccination is not a booster vaccination but is intended to give a second chance to those vaccinated, and the first vaccination did not work correctly. If a child is about to be admitted to a children’s facility, the MMR vaccination can also be given from the 9th month of life.


Since there is no age limit, the vaccination can be made up for at any age. The MMR vaccination is also recommended in facilities for childbirth preparation, assistance, and infant and child care.

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