PULLMAN — The Whitman County Health Department has confirmed the diagnosis of rubella (German measles, three-day measles) in an 18-year-old student from China.  The student attended intensive language classes at Washington State University from July 7 to July 21, 2008.

Rubella is a viral illness characterized by a red rash beginning on the face and spreading to the trunk and limbs.  Along with the rash there may be a low-grade fever, aching joints and swollen lymph glands, particularly behind the ears.  The rash of rubella lasts for 1 to 3 days and resolves spontaneously.  Many cases of infection have no apparent symptoms.  There is no treatment for rubella.

Routine immunization of children with two doses of MMR (mumps – measles – rubella) vaccine has virtually eliminated transmission of rubella within the United States.  Rubella still occurs naturally in other parts of the world.  The source of the rubella infection in the 18-year-old student is unknown at this time.

Complications from rubella infection are uncommon, but serious.  Rubella infection during pregnancy may cause severe damage to the developing fetus, especially if the infection occurs during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Rubella is highly contagious and is transmitted by close contact with infected persons and their respiratory secretions.  The time between exposure and onset of illness is 14 – 17 days.  Persons infected with rubella may be infectious to others from 7 days before to 4 days after the onset of the rash.

The Whitman County Health Department (WCHD) is notifying close contacts of the ill student who were exposed during the potential communicable period from July 13 to July 21.  Close contacts who have had already rubella or who have had two doses of MMR are already immune and should not be concerned.  Close contacts who are unimmunized, pregnant or who have received only one dose of MMR vaccine and have not already been notified by the WCHD should contact their health care provider or local public health office.

Close contacts who have symptoms of rubella (red rash, fever and joint pains) should call their health care provider for instructions regarding evaluation rather than exposing other patients in clinic or emergency waiting rooms.