German Measles, also rubella, contagious disease of short duration, caused by virus infection. The disease is characterized by a rose-colored rash and frequently by other mild symptoms, such as a slight fever, sore throat, and swelling of the lymph glands behind the ears. The rash, which lasts from one to four days, first appears on the face and spreads rapidly to the chest, limbs, and abdomen. German measles is most common among teenagers and young adults and rarely occurs in infants or in adults over the age of 40. It has an incubation period of 14 to 21 days, more commonly 17 or 18 days. An attack of the disease usually confers lifelong immunity. In the United States, some 360 cases of German measles are reported each year.
Although far less severe than measles, German measles can have severe consequences for women in the first three months of pregnancy. The newborn child may be afflicted with various congenital abnormalities, including heart defects, mental retardation, deafness, and cataracts (see Fetus). The incidence of these malformations is so high that many physicians recommend therapeutic abortion, if miscarriage has not already resulted from the disease. An attack of rubella after the fourth month of pregnancy rarely causes birth defects. Pregnant women who are exposed to German measles are given gamma globulin (see Blood: Plasma) in an effort to prevent contraction of the disease. Women of childbearing age are advised to be immunized with attenuated live virus vaccines several months before anticipated pregnancy.
The rubella virus was isolated and identified in 1961, and by the early 1970s the vaccine was readily available. Administered in primary and secondary schools and community health departments, the vaccine has dramatically reduced the incidence of German measles among U.S. school-age children.