Te karawaka Tiamana Rubella

Rubella, or 'German measles', is a contagious viral infection that causes a spotty rash. Rubella is usually mild — but if a pregnant person catches it, it can lead to birth defects in their unborn pēpi.

How rubella spreads

Rubella spreads from person to person through the air by breathing, coughing and sneezing.

You are infectious from 7 days before the rash appears until 7 days after — this is when you can easily give it to other people. Even if you do not have symptoms you can still give it to other people.

Rubella can be passed on from pregnant people to their unborn pēpi through the bloodstream.

Symptoms of rubella

If you get rubella, it takes 14 to 23 days before you get sick with symptoms.

The main symptom of rubella is a red or spotty rash on the face, neck and body. The rash can be hard to see on dark skin, but might feel rough or bumpy. It may or may not be itchy. It lasts up to 5 days — the average is 3 days. As the rash fades, the affected skin may shed in flakes.

Other symptoms of rubella include:

  • high temperature of 38ºC or above
  • swollen neck glands, or a sore throat
  • runny nose and sneezing
  • cough
  • sore, red eyes
  • sore joints in the fingers, wrists, or knees.

Symptoms generally cause a mild illness in both adults, and tamariki (children). Some people have no symptoms at all.

People most at risk

  • unborn pēpi (babies)
  • people who have not had rubella, or have not been immunised for rubella
  • people born in Aotearoa New Zealand between 1965 and 1967.

Complications from rubella

Complications from rubella are more likely in adults than tamariki.

Although rubella is usually very mild it can have some of the following risks.

  • Rash and painful swollen glands.
  • Painful joints in adults and adolescents.
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) in about 1 in 6,000 cases.

Pregnancy and rubella

Rubella is serious if you get it in the early stages of pregnancy. Unborn pēpi are most at risk. 

It is highly likely to cause serious issues in developing pēpi. This is called Congenital Rubella Syndrome.

Pēpi born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome who were infected during pregnancy are considered infectious until they are 1 year old.

The risks of rubella during pregnancy are highest in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. They drop to about 10 to 20% by 16 weeks of the pregnancy.

Risks in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy

Getting rubella during early pregnancy can cause serious health issues for your pēpi.

85% of pēpi infected with rubella during the first 8 weeks of pregnancy will have a major abnormality, such as:

  • deafness
  • blindness
  • brain damage
  • a heart defect
  • intellectual disability
  • behavioural problems.

Diagnosing rubella

Before you see a healthcare provider

If you think you or someone in your whānau has rubella, call your healthcare provider or Healthline for advice as soon as possible.

Call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116

Call your healthcare provider before you visit them. Rubella is easily passed on from 1 person to another. They will need to protect others against the risk.

How to get a diagnosis

Because the symptoms are so mild, it can be hard to diagnose correctly. The only way to confirm an infection is with a blood test or special swab test.

Staying home

If you have rubella you should 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 to those most at risk in your community. 

Treating rubella

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.

Preventing rubella

Immunisation is the best way to prevent rubella.

Getting immunised before pregnancy is the best way to protect unborn pēpi from rubella. Pregnant people should not be given the MMR vaccine.

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

All people of child-bearing age can be screened for free to see whether they are immune to rubella. If you are not immune, you are eligible for a free rubella vaccine. 

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