Diagnosing and treating German measles (rubella)

Diagnosing and treating German measles (rubella)

Rubella infection in the body.If you have any reason to suspect a rubella infection, book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. It is strongly advisable to inform your doctor of your suspicion when you make the appointment so that they can make any necessary arrangements ahead of time to reduce any potential risk to other people visiting their practice, especially those who may be pregnant.

In some countries around the world, doctors will also need to report any infections to all relevant local health authorities so that they can assess any sudden outbreak cases or the spread of infection, in other countries it is not a notifiable condition. However, your physician will likely arrange a time for your consultation that won’t put others at risk.

If you suspect a rubella infection (either in yourself or a child) based on your overall symptoms, it is recommended that you stay away from community areas, school or work until a diagnosis either confirms or rules out the illness.

Diagnosis

Some symptoms of German measles, particularly a rash, are often similar to other viruses. The main means of diagnosis your doctor will use is a blood test. Your doctor may also test your saliva by taking a sample from your mouth.

The blood test (a sample usually taken from a vein in your arm) will determine if there are different types of rubella antibodies (proteins that recognise and destroy bacteria and viruses harmful to the body) present in the bloodstream. Results of the blood test enable your doctor to see straight away whether you currently have an infection or are immune to it.

Even if you have had rubella in the past, your sample could test positive for certain antibodies.

Antibodies that will be present in your result are:

  • IgM antibody: If it is determined that you have a new infection, this antibody will be present.
  • IgG antibody: If you have had a rubella infection in the past or you’ve been vaccinated against it, this antibody will be present.
  • Neither: Where neither antibody is present, your result will indicate that you are not infected with the virus and / or haven’t been vaccinated against it. There is a small chance that a person can test negative for these tests and still clinically have the disease.

Pregnant women who suspect, for any reason, that they may have the infection must see their physician as soon as possible. An expectant mom may be aware that she has come into contact with an infected individual, develop a rash, come into contact with someone who has a rash, or experience other known symptoms of the virus.

As with any other suspected case, a blood, and / or saliva test will be done to determine the presence of an infection or not. If the rubella virus is present, a pregnant woman will likely be referred to her gynaecologist (obstetrician) who specialises in conditions that affect an unborn baby.

Further tests and an ultrasound scan will then be conducted as soon as possible to assess any developing problems with the growing foetus. If serious problems are determined, many will be offered counselling as well, enabling an infected mother to make an informed decision about whether she wishes to continue her pregnancy or not.

Treatment procedures

Once diagnosed, most cases of German measles can be treated at home. As the symptoms of the illness are usually mild, treatment recommendations help clear up the virus within 7 to ten days.

To treat your symptoms, you will be advised to:

  • Stay home and rest. Staying away from others, especially while you are contagious, is strongly recommended. Rest also helps your body to heal and recover from the symptoms brought on by the infection.
  • Control your fever and relieve any bodily aches and pains with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Liquid paracetamol may be recommended for young children. Children under the age of 16 should never be given aspirin to relieve pain as the risk for Reyes Syndrome is incredibly high. This is a potentially deadly disease affecting the brain and the liver. Other ways you can relieve a high temperature is with a cool (not cold – this will cause blood vessels to constrict) compress applied to the forehead.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration. Sufficient hydration will also help to alleviate any discomfort caused by coughing.
  • Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend over-the-counter medication to help treat cold or flu-like symptoms. Other ways you can help treat these symptoms include steam inhalation (hold your head over a bowl of steamy water with a towel placed over your head and breathing in the warm steam). Warm drinks with lemon and honey can also provide some relief by relaxing the airways, loosening mucus and soothing a cough.
  • Expectant moms may also be treated with antibodies called hyperimmune globulin to assist with fighting the virus in the body. These antibodies will also help to alleviate the severity of symptoms experienced. Hyperimmune globulin will not, however, prevent or reduce the risk of CRS.
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