This common infectious disease, also called rubella, is not normally serious and an attack usually confers immunity for life.
However, if a woman gets it during the first 16 weeks of a pregnancy, it may severely affect the unborn child – causing stillbirth, blindness, deafness or heart disease. Anyone with German measles should keep away from newly pregnant women. If you contract the disease and come inadvertently into contact with a mother-to-be, be sure to let her know, so that she can get advice from her doctor if she has not been immunised.
Because other viruses can mimic German measles, doctors will, as a routine procedure, offer immunisation to all girls at about the age of 13, even if they may already have had German measles. The injection may produce a mild rash and joint pains, clearing up after a few days.
Women who are unsure whether they have had it should ask their doctor for a blood test – similar tests are made automatically early in pregnancy – to establish whether or not they are immune. If an injection is needed they should avoid pregnancy for at least three months afterwards, as immunisation can also affect an unborn child.
Symptoms of rashes and pains
German measles takes 14 to 21 days to develop after exposure to the infection. First symptoms may be a general feeling of illness, followed within a few days by a rash of small, pink spots starting from behind the ears or on the face, and spreading over the rest of the body.
Glands, particularly behind the ears, may swell, and there may be pains in the joints, sometimes severe, especially in young women.
The rash lasts for up to five days and the sufferer is infectious to others from five days before until four days after the rash appears. The joint pain may persist for two weeks.
Treatment of German measles
Most cases are treated at home. Keep the victim indoors for four days after the rash appears, and give painkillers as necessary.
Consult the doctor if the joint pains are severe, or if the patient develops a high temperature, severe or persistent headache, or become unnaturally drowsy. Get medical advice if you suspect that any woman in early pregnancy has been exposed to infection, and is not known be immune.