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Heat Emergency in Boston
Mayor Wu announced a heat emergency in the City of Boston through Wednesday, July 17. Cooling centers will be open at 14 BCYF community centers Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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Rubella (German Measles)

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about rubella.

Rubella is a contagious illness caused by a virus.

The basics

Is rubella dangerous?

Rubella is usually a mild disease; but, it is dangerous for pregnant women. Rubella causes birth defects such as deafness, blindness, heart problems, mental retardation, or bone problems. This risk is greatest in the first trimester. Rubella can also cause miscarriages or fetal death. All women who want to have children should have their blood tested to make sure that they are immune to rubella.

Who gets rubella?

Anyone unvaccinated against or who has never had rubella illness can get rubella. Babies younger than 12 months old are at higher risk because they cannot get the vaccine.

How is rubella spread?

The rubella virus lives in the noses and throats of infected people. Direct contact with nose/throat secretions or exposure to the cough or sneeze of an infected person can spread the disease. People infected with rubella are contagious from 7 days before until 7 days after onset of the rash. 


What are the symptoms?

Rubella illness is usually mild. Symptoms begin 16 to 18 days after exposure. Common symptoms include:

  • a slight fever
  • swelling of the lymph glands
  • joint pain
  • a rash that usually lasts three days

About half of all people who get the disease do not have symptoms.

How is rubella diagnosed?

Rubella can look like other diseases that cause a rash. If you suspect you or your child has rubella, call your healthcare provider. The health care provider will evaluate and determine if you or your child have rubella. Health care providers must report all cases of rubella to the BPHC (617-534-5611).


How can I prevent rubella?

Protect your children by vaccinating them against rubella. The rubella vaccine is part of the MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps and measles as well as rubella. MMR vaccine is usually given to children at 12-15 months of age and again at 4-6 years old. Adults and older children who are not immune should get the MMR vaccine. In Massachusetts, you need proof of immunization to MMR for school attendance, including college. Other groups, particularly healthcare workers, should also be immune to rubella. Women who plan to have children and who are not immune should get the MMR vaccine at least 1 month before getting pregnant.

Who should not get the MMR vaccine?

People who have serious allergies to gelatin, the drug neomycin, or a previous dose of the vaccine should not get the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women should not get the MMR vaccine until after they deliver their babies. People with cancer, HIV, or other problems that weaken the immune system should check with their healthcare provider before vaccination. People who have recently had a blood transfusion or receive other blood products should check with their health care provider before vaccination. People with high fevers should not get the vaccine until after the fever and other symptoms are gone.

Is MMR vaccine safe?

Yes, it is safe for most people. People sometimes experience a fever, rash, or swelling of the lymph glands in the neck one to two weeks after getting the MMR vaccine. Allergic reactions or other side effects can occur, but are rare. 

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