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Morven S Edwards, MD
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Martin S Hirsch, MD
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Allyson Bloom, MD


Two German clinicians, De Bergen and Orlow, are credited with the first description of rubella in the 1750s; the subsequent attention it received in the German literature led to its appellation "German measles" [1]. Initially, rubella was thought to be a variant related to measles or scarlet fever and was called the "Third Exanthematous Disease of Childhood" or the "three day measles". In 1866, Veale, a Scottish clinician serving as an English Royal Artillery surgeon, proposed changing the name to rubella, from the Latin "little red" [2].

The viral etiology of rubella was suspected by Hess in 1914 based on experiments of inoculating monkeys with blood obtained from children with acute manifestations of rubella [3]. This was later confirmed by the transmission of filtered secretions from individuals with acute rubella to susceptible children by Hiro and Tosaka in 1938 [4].

The Australian ophthalmologist Norman McAlister Gregg first made the seminal observation of the teratogenic effects of rubella in 1941 by describing the association of congenital cataracts with maternal rubella [5]. Subsequently, rubella infection during early gestation was associated with the devastating array of congenital defects comprising the congenital rubella syndrome. This led to the development of live-attenuated rubella vaccines

In countries employing mass immunization campaigns and recommendations for universal immunization of children, rubella cases and congenital rubella cases declined precipitously. In regions of the developing world lacking rubella immunization programs, a high proportion of women of childbearing age remain susceptible to infection [6-11].

The microbiology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of rubella will be reviewed here. Issues related to rubella in pregnancy and congenital rubella syndrome are discussed separately. (See "Rubella in pregnancy" and "Congenital rubella syndrome: Clinical features and diagnosis" and "Congenital rubella syndrome: Management, outcome, and prevention".)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 10, 2017.
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