Symptoms of rubella 

The symptoms of rubella usually take two to three weeks to develop after infection. This time is called the incubation period.

Some infected people won't develop any symptoms, but in those who do, a rash and swelling around the neck and head are common signs of the condition.

A red-pink rash

The rubella rash is typically a red-pink colour. It consists of a number of small spots, which may be slightly itchy.

The rash usually starts behind the ears before spreading around the head and neck. It may then spread to the chest and tummy (the trunk), and legs and arms. In most cases, the rash disappears by itself within three to five days.

Swollen lymph glands

Lymph nodes, or glands, are small lumps of tissue found throughout the body. They contain white blood cells that help fight bacteria, viruses and anything else that causes infection.

If you have rubella, the glands will usually swell behind the ears, below your skull at the back of your head, and in your neck. In some cases this swelling can be painful.

These lymph glands sometimes start to swell before the rash appears, and the swelling can last for several weeks after the rash has gone.

Other symptoms

As well as a rash and swollen lymph glands, people with rubella may also develop other symptoms, including:

  • a high temperature (fever) – it is usually mild (less than 39C or 102.2F) but can be more severe in adults
  • cold-like symptoms – such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat and cough
  • slightly sore and red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • aching and painful joints
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness

These symptoms may develop shortly before the rash and usually last for a few days.

Seeking medical advice

You should always contact your GP surgery or NHS 111 straight away if you suspect rubella. While the condition is usually mild, it's important for a doctor to confirm the diagnosis as the symptoms could be caused by a more serious illness.

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

Don't visit your GP surgery without phoning first, as arrangements may need to be made to reduce the risk of infecting others. In particular, contact with pregnant women should be avoided if possible – rubella can cause serious problems in an unborn baby, although this is rare nowadays.

Read about diagnosing rubella.

Page last reviewed: 03/11/2015

Next review due: 03/11/2017