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Symptoms of rubella

The symptoms of rubella take 2-3 weeks to develop after someone is infected with the rubella virus. This time is called the incubation period. During the incubation period some people may have a raised temperature,conjunctivitis or feel like they are getting a cold.

Some of the main symptoms of the rubella virus, when it develops, are described below.

A distinctive red-pink rash

The rubella rash is a distinctive red-pink colour. The rash appears as spots, which may be itchy. It usually starts behind the ears, before spreading around the head and neck. It may then spread to the abdomen and chest, legs and arms. The rash usually lasts up to 3 days.

Swollen lymph nodes

Swelling usually appears behind the ears, below your skull at the back of your head, and in your neck. Swollen lymph nodes (glands) can be painful. Sometimes they appear before the rash, and can last for a week or more after the rash has disappeared.

A high temperature

A high temperature (fever) of 38 ºC or more is a symptom of rubella that, although more common in children, can be severe in adults. Your temperature may remain high for several days.

Cold-like symptoms

Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat and cough, are common in rubella, particularly in adults.

When to seek medical advice

You should always contact your doctor if you suspect that you or your child have rubella. If you suspect that you or your child has rubella, phone your doctor. Do not visit your doctor's surgery without calling them first as you will put any pregnant women who may be there at risk of catching the rubella infection.

While the condition is usually mild it is important that the diagnosis is confirmed by a doctor as the symptoms could be due to a more serious illness.

It is also important that any cases of rubella are reported to the relevant local health authorities so that they can track the spread of infection in case there is a sudden outbreak of cases.

Last reviewed: July 2017

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