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Rubella Disease and Vaccine

Quick Facts


  • Rubella is a mild viral infection that primarily occurs in childhood but can also affect adults.  Known as the “German measles” or “three day measles,” rubella infection produces a rash that resembles a mild case of rubeola (measles); 
  • About 20% to 50% of rubella infections are asymptomatic. Rubella symptoms may begin with a mild fever, runny nose, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and progress to a pink rash that starts on the face and spreads to the neck, arms, chest and sometimes the legs, disappearing as it moves downward on the body. The rash is not as red or blotchy as measles and generally fades by the third to fifth day; 
  • Rubella is a respiratory infection that is spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. The virus can be found in an infected person’s throat and blood; 
  • Incubation period is from exposure to symptoms is 14 to 21 days. Recovery from rubella usually confers lifelong immunity, although there are rare reports of repeat cases;  
  • While rubella is mildly contagious and usually not a serious infection, a pregnant woman infected with rubella during the first three months of pregnancy  has a 25% greater chance of suffering a miscarriage or giving birth to a baby with congenital rubella syndrome and birth defects. Infants born with congenital rubella syndrome can suffer from deafness, blindness, heart defects, developmental delay or mental retardation, small head size and other serious health problems; 
  • Young adults, especially young women, who are infected with rubella may have swollen glands in the back of the neck and joint pain, swelling and stiffness (arthritis) that lasts for several weeks. Rarely, more serious complications of rubella include brain inflammation and chronic arthritis;
  • Between 2009 and 2013, there was an average of 6 cases of rubella reported in the U.S. annually.   

Rubella Vaccine

  • There are three rubella containing vaccines licensed in the U.S and two rubella containing vaccines currently being manufactured by Merck. The two available vaccines are both combination vaccines. MMR II - a vaccine that contains live attenuated measles, mumps and rubella and ProQuad - a vaccine that contains live attenuated measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. While Meruvax II is licensed in the U.S., it is not currently being manufactured in the U.S.;
  • Common adverse events reported after receipt of MMR II vaccine include fever, fatigue, headache, skin rash, diarrhea. Reported serious adverse events include shock, encephalitis, convulsions (seizures), encephalopathy, thrombocytopenia purpura,  arthritis, optic neuritis, lupus, Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), encephalitis, aseptic meningitis, deafness, gastrointestinal disorder, cardiomyopathy, transverse myelitis, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis; 
  • A CDC vaccine safety study found that children aged 12-23 months were twice as likely to experience febrile seizures with ProQuad compared to administering MMR and Varivax separately;
  • In 1991, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee concluded that there was scientific evidence that the rubella portion of the MMR shot can cause acute arthritis, with the highest incidence occurring in adult women who receive rubella vaccine (up to 15 percent) and that some individuals go on to develop chronic arthritis. However, a 2011 IOM report said the evidence “was inadequate to accept or reject” a causal relationship between rubella vaccine and chronic arthritis in women and children;
  • As of September 1, 2015, there had been 194 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following rubella vaccination, including 4 deaths and 190 serious injuries.
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of May 31, 2019, there have been more than 95,052 reports of rubella vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following rubella vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 426 related deaths, 7,048 hospitalizations, and 1,848 related disabilities. Over 67 percent of rubella vaccine-related adverse events occurred in children six years old and under.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA) 

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more. 

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982 NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Rubella and the Rubella vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


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