Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)

Page last updated: 20 April 2015

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a bacterium commonly found in the upper respiratory tract, which can cause a range of serious diseases particularly in young children. Hib infection is associated with a broad variety of medical conditions, from skin and ear infections to serious illnesses such as meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord), epiglottitis (inflammation of part of the voice box), infectious arthritis and pneumonia.

Before Hib vaccines were included in the vaccination schedule in 1993, Hib was a common cause of life-threatening infections, particularly in children under the age of two. However, since routine immunisation began, there has been a reduction of more than 95% in notified cases of Hib infections in Australia.

Causes

Hib is a highly contagious bacterium, which is spread by direct contact or through droplets produced in the coughs or sneeze of an infected person. Despite its name, Hib is a bacterium and is not a form of influenza (flu), which is caused by a virus.

Symptoms

It can take between two and four days after infection for symptoms to show. The classical signs of meningitis – neck stiffness and sensitivity to lights – may not be detected in infants, who are more likely to present with drowsiness, poor feeding and high fever. Children with epiglottitis may have breathing difficulties and be dribbling and anxious. Both meningitis and epiglottitis can develop quickly and, if left untreated, can rapidly become life-threatening.

Prevention

The Hib vaccine prevents meningitis, pneumonia, epiglottitis, and other serious infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B bacteria.

Hib vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation, Hib is free on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. To receive Hib immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that the vaccine is provided at no cost, although a consultation fee may apply.

Several doses of the Hib vaccine are required to protect a child against Hib. Doses are given at two, four and six months of age, with a booster dose at 12 months. The doses given at two, four and six months of age are given in a combination vaccine with DTPa (diphtheria-tetanus-whooping cough), polio and hepatitis B. The dose for 12 month-old children is given in combination with meningococcal C.

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