Rubella is a rash illness caused by the rubella virus. It's generally a mild illness, but if acquired by women in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy can have devastating effects on the unborn child, leading to Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). The virus can affect all foetal organs and lead to serious birth defects such as:

  • learning difficulties
  • cataracts
  • deafness
  • cardiac abnormalities
  • restriction of intrauterine growth
  • inflammatory lesions of the brain, liver, lungs and bone marrow 

For more information on the symptoms and treatment of rubella, visit NHS inform.


For all infection prevention and control guidance visit the A-Z ​pathogens section of the National Infection and Prevention Control Manual.

Data and surveillance

Surveillance update for April to June 2019

Before the introduction of rubella vaccination, more than 80% of adults had evidence of previous exposure to rubella. A vaccination programme targeting girls and non-immune women of childbearing age was introduced in the UK in 1970 which reduced the number of CRS births and terminations. In 1988, the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine was introduced for both boys and girls and further decreased cases of rubella to near elimination levels (Figure 1).

No laboratory confirmed rubella cases were reported to us between 1 January and 30 June 2019. The last reported case of laboratory confirmed rubella was in 2017.

Figure 1 is a line chart showing the number of laboratory reports of measles by year from 1988 until 31 March 2019. The figure shows that the number of cases of rubella fluctuated each year between 1988 and 1995. The number of cases peaked in 1996 at 766 but decreased dramatically in 1997. Since 1997, the number of cases has been low and stable. One case was reported in 2017 and no cases were reported in 2018. No cases were reported between 1 January and 31 March 2019.  The graph is also annotated with information showing when rubella vaccinations were introduced with the MMR vaccine introduced in 1988, the MR campaign initiated in 1994 and the second dose of MMR added to the schedule in 1996.

Congenital rubella surveillance

Congenital rubella surveillance can be viewed on the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) website.


Vaccination uptake

Vaccine uptake statistics on the MMR vaccine can be found on the Information Services Division (ISD) website.