Rubella vs. Rubeola

Often used interchangeably, rubella and rubeola are actually homophones (they have the same pronunciation, but have different spellings and meanings). The confusion lies in their basic descriptions. They are different types of measles caused by a viruses identified by a rash on the skin.

Although they are very similar in nature, they are different types of measles which each has different characteristics. They are both serious, life-threatening diseases. Understanding the difference will greatly help with the effectiveness of the treatment.

Rubella vs. Rubeola

What Is Rubeola (Measles)?

A severe infection growing in the cells that line the throat and lungs is what doctors refer to as rubeola, or measles. Rubeola is an extremely contagious virus and it can spread to others when the person with the infections coughs or sneezes.

The most common symptoms of rubeola are a fever, cough, runny nose, and a rash. This rash is what signals the virus growing in the lungs. If left untreated, the person may develop other health complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

What Is Rubella (German Measles)?

Two other names that rubella goes by are German measles and three-day measles. This virus also has an identifying red rash and is extremely contagious. Rubella is passed between people when they sneeze, cough, or when another person has contact with the infected person’s respiratory secretions, including mucus.

A woman who is pregnant may even pass it on, through the bloodstream, to her unborn child. The individual with rubella is only contagious between 10 days before the onset of the rash up until about 2 weeks after the rash has cleared up.

Rubella vs. Rubeola: Differences

The viruses that create rubella and rubeola are different. This means that the symptoms vary, as well as the areas which are affected.


Rubeola: The virus that causes rubeola (measles) infects the respiratory system creating flu-like symptoms. The individual may experience coughing along with a fever.

Rubella: The virus that causes rubella (German measles) infects the lymph nodes and skin. The nodes become swollen and the infection causes a fever and conjunctivitis.

The one thing that they both have in common is the itchy red rash that covers the skin.


When it comes to German measles vs. measles, the most common difference is that the German measles is actually a milder disease. Because it only lasts about three days, whereas rubeola may last several days, become more serious, and even leave lasting health complications.

Although rubeola is the more serious disease for most people, pregnant women need to be wary of rubella as it is a very serious disease for them. Coming into contact with someone who has rubella within the first 20 weeks of your pregnancy may cause irreversible health defects in your unborn child. It may even cause a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage.

Since the person who has rubella does not have to show symptoms, it is very difficult to know if they have rubella. This is one of the reasons that why it is of vital importance for pregnant women to be vaccinated against rubella. Keeping this in mind, it is also important that you are vaccinated at least a month before you become pregnant so that it has time to begin building your immune system.


The symptoms vary from rubella to rubeola, giving doctors and other medical personnel a way to differentiate between the two. However, to the average person the symptoms may appear very similar. It is important that you allow your doctor to diagnose your ailment so that you can get the proper treatment.

Rubella presents itself with a light red (almost pink) rash that is spotted. This rash may last 1-3 days. A few other symptoms that you may notice are a couple days of a low grade fever, swollen lymph nodes, and there may even be some joint swelling. People who have rubella are contagious one week prior to the breakout, during the breakout, and one week following the breakout.

It is important to note that children may recover much faster than adults. A child may recover within one week, where adults may take longer to recover.

Rubeola: Unlike rubella, rubeola presents itself as a red or reddish-brown rash that covers the entire body. The first symptom is normally a hacking cough followed by a runny nose along with a high fever. Another common symptom of rubeola is the appearance of red spots with blue white centers found in the mouth, these are also known as Koplik spots. Rubeola is extremely contagious and those with the ailment are contagious four days prior to the symptoms and four days after the onset of the rash.

Rubella vs. Rubeola: Treatments

The best way to treat either form of measles is to get a lot of rest and drink plenty of fluids. The only medication given for measles is acetaminophen to reduce the fever and pain. There are not any medications to treat the measles.

One way of helping prevent rubella or rubeola is to get the vaccination for measles. This vaccination is known as the MMR. Always remember that you are only able to treat the symptoms once you have measles and never give aspirin to children. If your child has measles, talk with your doctor about a medication that they can use.

Get the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine

As previously mentioned, the best way to prevent measles is to get your MMR vaccination. This vaccination comes in two parts, but is effective at preventing three very serious ailments: measles, mumps, and rubella. Most of the time, the first shot is given to children between the ages of 12 and 15 months. The second shot is given to children between the ages of 4 and 6.

It is recommended that all children get this vaccination. Many states actually require that your child has this vaccination before they are allowed to enter school. If you are an adult and are unsure if you have received the vaccination, you need to discuss with your doctor the option of receiving the vaccination.

Who Should Not Get the MMR Vaccination?

Those who have already had the vaccination do not need another vaccination. There are a few other reasons that you should not get the vaccination as well. Here is a brief list of those who should not get the MMR vaccination:

  • If you were born prior to or during 1956 because many had the disease at that time and it is assumed that your body has naturally built up immunity.
  • If you have a serious allergic reaction after the first shot, you should not receive the second.
  • If you have an allergy to gelatin or neomycin.
  • If you are planning on becoming pregnant in the next month, or are already pregnant.
  • If you have a week immune system due to cancer drugs, other medication, or AIDS.
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