What Are The Differences Between Rubella and Measles?

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Measles and mumps are both viral infections that primarily affect children. Measles is caused by the measles virus (MeV) while mumps is caused by the mumps virus (MuV). Both viruses are transmitted through respiratory droplets. Measles is however more contagious than Rubella and specifically infects the respiratory system. Rubella invades the lymph nodes, eyes and skin, and is less severe than measles and lasts only 3–4 days.



Both measles and rubella are contagious and spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Measles can remain active and contagious for up to two hours in an airspace after an infected person has left the area. Measles can survive on surfaces for a short time, and can therefore spread through direct contact with an infected surface.

Rubella is generally less contagious than measles. It primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets, but the transmission rate is lower. Rubella can be transmitted from an infected mother to her unborn child during pregnancy. This can cause serious birth defects in the developing fetus.


What Is The Incubation Period For Measles and Rubella?

The incubation period is defined as the period of time from infection to the onset of symptoms. Rubella has a longer incubation period of 14–21 days, while measles signs and symptoms can be noted as soon as 7–14 days after infection.


Where Does The Skin Rash in Measles and Rubella Begin?

Each disease typically initiates in specific areas of the body, ranging from the face to behind the ears. Explore further details below.



Rubella is a mild pink maculopapular rash that starts in the face and moves to the trunk, arms and legs. The rash typically fades as it spreads. 



Measles is a red blotchy rash that starts behind the ears and on the neck, thereafter it spreads to the face and body and then the arms and legs.


Signs and Symptoms Of The Disease

Rubella and Measles will have distinct signs and symptoms which may include a rash, fever or sore, red eyes. Discover more signs and symptoms of each disease below.

Rubella Signs and Symptoms

Rubella often presents with mild symptoms, including:

  •         Mild rash
  •         Low fever (<39˚C)
  •         Nausea
  •         Swollen and tender lymph nodes behind the ears or at the back of the

neck (suboccipital)

  •         In adults, a small joint arthritis may occur


Measles Signs and Symptoms

Measles often present with the following clinical features:

  •         Runny nose, sneezing and cough
  •         Watery eyes
  •         High fever (40˚C)
  •         Sore, red eyes

After 2–3 days of the initial clinical features, a few tiny white spots, like salt grains appear

in the mouth (Koplik spots).

The skin rash appears 1–2 days later, lasting about 5 days.



Measles can lead to various complications, especially in children with poor nutrition or other concomitant conditions. In measles, secondary bacterial infection (bronchitis, bronchopneumonia, and otitis media) may occur.

Rubella causes milder illness compared to measles but can be very concerning when contracted during pregnancy. Rubella infection in pregnant women can result in congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), leading to a range of birth defects in the developing fetus. These defects can affect the heart, eyes, ears, and brain, causing lifelong disabilities.


Measles and Rubella Prevention Methods

The most effective way to prevent both measles and rubella is through vaccination. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine provides immunity against all three diseases. The recommended two-dose schedule, starting with the first dose at 12-15 months and the second dose at 4-6 years, helps ensure long-lasting immunity. One dose of MMR vaccine is about 97% effective at preventing Rubella. It is worth noting that in certain situations, private bookings for vaccines may be available. 

Good hygiene practices, namely, handwashing, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with infected individuals, can help prevent the spread of both measles and rubella. Pregnant women should ensure they are immune to rubella before conceiving to minimize the risk of Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).


General Measures For Infectious Diseases

  •         Isolate the patient to prevent spread.
  •         Counsel the caregiver to isolate the patient in the home (if feasible).
  •         Reduce exposure of children < 12 months of age and pregnant women.
  •         Ensure that the caregiver and other close contacts have been previously immunized.


Management and Treatment

There are a range of different prevention, management and treatment options for measles and rubella. Discover more about travelling prevention methods, what to do if you're pregnant and more here.


Measles: Travelling to a Measle Outbreak Zone

For children residing and or traveling to areas with a measles outbreak or, early measles vaccination (one dose) is recommended.


Measles: Pregnant Women

Pregnant women without evidence of immunity, are recommended to receive immune globulin. During pregnancy measles vaccination, in conjunction with mumps and rubella, is contraindicated.


Measles: Immunocompromised Individuals

For immunocompromised patients, it is recommended to receive immune globulin. Administering the correct dose and frequency of medication for children and adults is crucial for their safety and effective treatment.


Treatment and Management of Rubella

Treatment of rubella is mainly supportive and consists of the use of pain relief medicine, for fever, arthralgia and/or arthritis.


For Pregnant Women

In pregnant women, the management depends on the gestation age at the onset of infection. The fetus is at high risk for infection and fetal malformation, if rubella occurs before 18 weeks of gestation. If Rubella occurs after 18 weeks of gestation, pregnancy could be continued with ultrasound monitoring and specific neonatal management.  Congenital rubella syndrome is managed symptomatically and organ-specific. There is no specific antiviral treatment for the underlying rubella virus itself.

Prevention through vaccination remains a critical approach to avoid the development of the disease.


Consult With A Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare professional if you notice any signs or symptoms of rubella or have been in contact with someone diagnosed with it. Early detection can help prevent the spread of the virus. Alternatively, access an extensive network of specialists at GlobMed. 


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