A baby crawling towards the camera with its parents sitting in the background.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) causes a bacterial infection that can lead to serious illness, especially in young children. 

Did you know?

  • There are 6 known types of Haemophilus influenzae (types a to f). 
  • There has been a greater than 95% reduction in Hib cases in Australia since Hib vaccines were included on the immunisation schedule in 19931.
A mother looking at her baby which she is holding who is looking towards the camera.

What is it?

The haemophilus influenzae bacterium is naturally found in the upper respiratory tract. Of the 6 types of the bacteria (types a to f), type b (Hib) is almost always responsible for serious infection in young children, usually in those less than 2 years old.

Hib infection, although is rare in Australia, can cause serious, life-threatening complications such as pneumonia (lung swelling), meningitis (swelling around the brain and spinal cord) and epiglottitis (swelling of the lid that covers the windpipe).

What are the symptoms?

It can take between 2 and 4 days after infection for symptoms to develop, and the symptoms can vary depending on which part of the body is infected. They may include:

  • meningitis (swelling around the brain and spinal cord) – high fever, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness lethargy, loss of alertness, irritability and poor appetite
  • pneumonia (lung swelling) – fever, coughing, chills, drowsiness, chest pain and difficulty breathing
  • epiglottitis (swelling of the lid that covers the windpipe) – breathing and swallowing difficulties, high fever and drooling.

If left untreated, meningitis, pneumonia and epiglottitis can lead to lifelong disability or death.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a Hib infection. Please speak a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about Hib.

How is it spread?

The Hib bacteria can spread from person to person through contact with infected respiratory droplets (for example by coughing or sneezing). If the bacteria enters the lungs or bloodstream, it can cause serious illness.

The bacteria lives in the upper respiratory tract of most healthy people without causing illness. These people are known as carriers and can pass the bacteria on to others.

Who is at risk?

Hib disease mainly affects children, with those under 2 years of age at greatest risk of complications. From around 2 years of age, children progressively gain natural immunity through everyday contact with Hib which is why it is not common beyond 5 years of age. 

Other people may also be at risk of Hib infection. Please discuss your individual circumstances with a healthcare professional.

Prevention and Treatement options

  • Children

    Practicing good hygiene can help to protect against illness and the spread of germs:

    • cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or into your upper sleeve or elbow
    • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • if no water is available use an alcohol-based hand-rub

    The risk of Hib can be reduced through immunisation.

    Antibiotics may be used to treat Hib infection. Hospitalisation  may be required depending on the severity of disease.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about Hib prevention and treatment options.

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References

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018, immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au. (accessed October 2020)    

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190033 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021