Also Known As
German measles
Formal Name
Rubella antibodies, IgM and IgG
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
15 January 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To determine if you have had a recent or past infection with the rubella virus, or to check that you are protected from the rubella virus

When To Get Tested?

If you plan to get pregnant or have symptoms of rubella infection

Sample Required?

A blood sample taken from a vein in the arm (this may need to be repeated after 7 days), oral fluid, a throat swab, or other more invasive samples such as amniotic fluid depending on symptoms.

Test Preparation Needed?

None

On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Rubella is a viral infection that causes a fine red rash and flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headache and a general feeling of being unwell. The raised red rash appears first on the face and neck and travels to the body and limbs. Teenagers and adults may experience more severe symptoms, such as joint pains, which may last several weeks. Rubella is usually harmless and the patient gets better without any special treatment, but when a woman gets rubella in the first three months of her pregnancy, serious birth defects, miscarriage, or stillbirth may result.

You may be infected when you come into contact with the nasal or throat secretions of someone who has an active viral infection. If you catch rubella, you are infectious one week before the rash appears and one week after. In children, rubella infections generally produce mild symptoms. The number of new cases of rubella is low in the UK since a combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is recommended for all children.

The test, which can be done at any time, will provide the necessary information about a person’s immunity to the virus.

How is the sample collected for testing?

Blood is taken by needle from a vein in the arm. Oral secretions or a throat swab is taken into a sterile container.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    A blood test can determine if you have had a recent or past infection, or if you have never been exposed to the rubella virus. People with recent infection will have a positive IgM antibody and those with a past infection (and those who have been vaccinated for rubella) will have a positive IgG antibody, while neither antibody will be present if there has been no contact with the virus. A blood test for IgG antibody will help the doctor predict if you are protected from infection or if you are at risk.

  • When is it requested?

    If you are pregnant and have a rash and other symptoms of rubella, your doctor will request a laboratory test to help make the diagnosis since you cannot diagnose rubella just from your clinical appearance (other infections may look the same). Rubella infection during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy presents major risks for the unborn baby. Antibody testing is strongly suggested for women before they become pregnant so those who are not immune to the virus can be vaccinated before they conceive. Antibody testing is also offered at the first ante-natal visit.  Antibody testing is often performed in infants born with abnormalities, such as deafness, mental retardation, heart defects, and cataracts that may have resulted from a rubella infection acquired before their birth. Direct tests to detect the presence of the rubella virus may be carried out on oral secretion or urine.

    Testing for rubella antibody is not usually done on children or adults who were vaccinated to prove the vaccine was effective.

  • What does the test result mean?

    In an adult or child, the absence of IgG antibodies to rubella means the person is unprotected. Absence of IgM antibodies and presence of IgG antibodies indicates a history of past exposure to the virus or vaccination. In an infant the presence of IgM antibodies means the baby was infected during the pregnancy.

    Oral secretions or a throat swab are tested by a different technique looking for the presence of the rubella virus, not the body’s response to infection.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    If only a low level of antibodies are detected then the test may be inconclusive, and immunisation with the rubella vaccine may be recommended as a precaution.

  • Should pregnant women be vaccinated for rubella?

    The rubella vaccine should not be given to a pregnant woman, and a woman should avoid getting pregnant for one month after taking the vaccine.

  • Does the vaccine have any risks?

    The vaccine contains a live virus that has been altered so it cannot cause all the problems associated with a natural infection. Some people may have a rash that lasts 2–3 weeks after vaccination, and pain in their joints, especially their hands and wrists. Side effects are rarely seen in young children who get the vaccine.

  • What is the treatment for rubella in someone who has not been vaccinated?

    There is no antibiotic or anti-viral drug that can prevent or "cure" the infection or reduce the risk of rubella to an unborn baby.

  • How soon after I have been exposed to the virus will I get rubella?

    If you are going to have symptoms, the rash usually begins 15–17 days after coming in contact with an infectious person, but it may take as long as 3 weeks