Measles Home > Cause of Rubella

An infection with the rubella virus is the cause of rubella. This virus usually results in mild illness, but it can pose a serious threat to a developing fetus if the mother contracts it during pregnancy. Today, there is a vaccine that can help prevent infection with the rubella virus.

What Causes Rubella?

Rubella (also known as German measles or three-day measles) is caused by an infection with the rubella virus.

What Is the Rubella Virus?

The rubella virus is an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus from the family Togaviridae and the genus Rubivirus. Though it's a mild childhood illness, rubella can pose a serious threat to a developing fetus if the mother contracts the rubella virus during pregnancy.
More than 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) during an outbreak of rubella in 1964-65. This epidemic cost the country an estimated $1.5 billion. The rubella vaccine was first licensed in the United States in 1969.

Transmitting the Rubella Virus

The rubella virus resides in the mucus in the nose and throat of the infected person. When that person sneezes or coughs, droplets spray into the air. The infected mucus can land in other people's noses or throats when they breathe or put their fingers in their mouth or nose after touching an infected surface.
When a person becomes infected with rubella virus, the virus begins to multiply within the cells that line the back of the throat and nose. The rubella virus can also spread through the bloodstream or lymph system to other parts of the body. After approximately 14 to 21 days, symptoms of rubella can appear. This period between the rubella transmission and the start of rubella symptoms is the "rubella incubation period."
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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