Diagnosing rubella 

If you suspect rubella, phone your GP surgery or NHS 111 straight away for advice.

Don't visit your GP surgery without phoning first, as arrangements may need to be made to reduce the risk of spreading any infection to other people.

Contact with pregnant women should be avoided as rubella can cause serious problems in an unborn baby, although this is very rare nowadays.

Your GP should be able to arrange a time for you to visit that won't put other people at risk.

You should keep your child away from school  or yourself away from work  until you've seen your GP.

Your GP may suspect rubella from the symptoms, but as other viral infections often have similar symptoms, testing a sample of saliva or blood is the only way to confirm a diagnosis.

Saliva and blood tests

If rubella is suspected, a sample of saliva from your mouth or blood from a vein in your arm can be taken and tested for certain antibodies.

Antibodies are proteins your body produces to destroy disease-carrying organisms and toxins. If you have rubella or you've had it in the past, your saliva or blood will test positive for certain antibodies, which are listed below:

  • IgM antibody  this will be present if you have a new rubella infection
  • IgG antibody  this will be present if you've had the rubella infection in the past, or you've been vaccinated against it

If neither antibody is present, you don't have rubella and you haven't been immunised against it.

Diagnosis in pregnancy

If you're pregnant, a blood test to check if you're immune to rubella will usually be carried out as part of routine antenatal screening. This is because a rubella infection in early pregnancy carries a risk of causing serious problems in your baby.

See complications of rubella for more information.

Most women are immune to rubella, and rubella infections during pregnancy are very rare in the UK. However, if the test shows you're not immune to the condition, you'll be offered advice about avoiding the infection and what to do if you think you may be infected.

If you're not immune to rubella, you should contact your GP or midwife as soon as possible if:

  • you've had face-to-face contact with someone who has rubella
  • you've spent more than 15 minutes in the same room as someone who has rubella
  • you have symptoms of rubella

It's unlikely you have rubella in these circumstances, but a further blood test may be necessary to check for the condition.

In the rare cases where testing shows you do have rubella, you'll be referred to a doctor who specialises in conditions that can affect unborn babies (an obstetrician). They may carry out tests such as an ultrasound scan and amniocentesis to check for any signs of problems in your baby.

You'll also be offered counselling so you can make an informed decision about whether you wish to proceed with the pregnancy if serious problems are found.

Page last reviewed: 03/11/2015

Next review due: 03/11/2017