Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
Both meningitis and epiglottitis can develop quickly and are fatal if they are not treated urgently. If you think your child has one of these conditions, take them straight to a hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
- Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a contagious bacteria — infection can be prevented by vaccination.
- Hib can cause infections in various parts of your body including the membranes around the brain (meningitis), the epiglottis at the back of the throat, the lungs, bones and joints, or tissues under the skin.
- Vaccination is your best protection against Hib. Vaccination is recommended for all babies from 2 months of age, for people who do not have a functioning spleen and for people who have had a stem cell transplant.
- Hib infections are treated with antibiotics.
- You may need care in hospital, with medicines and treatments to control pain, fever, provide fluids and help you breathe.
What is haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)?
Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a contagious bacteria. Hib infection can be prevented by vaccination.
Infection with Hib can be serious. It can attack the membranes around the brain (meningitis), the epiglottis at the back of the throat, lungs, bones and joints, or tissues under the skin, and can cause pneumonia. This can happen quickly and can be fatal.
Before the Hib vaccine was introduced in 1993, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in young children. Hib infections are now rare in Australia.
Hib is not the same as influenza B (the flu). Influenza is caused by a virus, not the Hib bacteria.
What are the symptoms of Hib?
Symptoms appear 2 to 4 days after catching the bacteria. The symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected:
- Meningitis (infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord): Symptoms include fever, a headache, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. Babies with meningitis will be drowsy, they won’t feed, and they may have a high fever and a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head).
- Epiglottitis (swelling of the epiglottis at the back of the throat): Symptoms include breathing difficulties, fever, paleness and difficulty swallowing. Babies with epiglottitis will dribble a lot and be very unsettled.
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs): Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, lack of energy, loss of appetite, headache, chest pain and cough.
- Osteomyelitis (infection of the bones): Symptoms include swelling, inflammation and pain over the bone.
- Cellulitis (infection of the tissue under the skin): Symptoms include a red, hot, swollen and tender area of skin.
Both meningitis and epiglottitis can develop quickly and are fatal if they are not treated. If you think your child has one of these conditions, take them straight to a hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
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What causes Hib?
Hib bacteria live in the back of the throat of healthy people. Sometimes they invade the body and cause infections.
Hib is spread through droplets from the nose or throat. You can catch it from an infected person coughing or sneezing, or by touching something that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.
Since vaccination was introduced, it has been very uncommon for someone to catch Hib. Those most at risk are unvaccinated children under 5 years of age, people aged over 65 years, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children, and people with weakened immune systems.
How will my doctor diagnose Hib?
Your doctor can diagnose Hib with a blood test or by performing a lumbar puncture to sample the fluid, known as cerebrospinal fluid, that sits around the brain and spinal cord.
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What treatment will I need for Hib?
Treatment for Hib will depend on the type of infection. If you have a diagnosis of Hib, you will usually need to take antibiotics for 10 days. Sometimes you will need care in hospital. You may also need medicine to manage your fever or pain. You might also need extra fluids and help with breathing.
How can I prevent Hib?
If you have had close contact with someone who has Hib, you may be able to take antibiotics to prevent you from becoming infected.
All babies from 2 months of age should be vaccinated against Hib. Babies need 3 doses (at 2, 4 and 6 months of age) and a booster when they are 18 months old.
People who do not have a functioning spleen or who have had a stem cell transplant should also be vaccinated against Hib.
Children diagnosed with Hib should stay away from childcare or school until they have finished their course of antibiotics. If you are in close contact with someone who is infected with Hib, a short course of antibiotics may prevent you from catching the disease.
What are the recommendations for the Hib vaccine?
Vaccination is your best protection against Hib. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.
|What age is it recommended?||Children aged 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 18 months.|
|How many doses are required?||4|
|How is it administered?||Injection|
|Is it free?||
It is free for children aged 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 18 months.
Find out more on the Department of Health and Aged Care website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.
Common side effects
The vaccine is very safe. Common side effects include redness and swelling where the needle went in, usually after the first dose. A very small number of children (1 in 50) have a mild fever that lasts for a short time.
Hib is a nationally notifiable disease , which means that if you have Hib, your doctor will report. Health authorities monitor and track cases to help prevent large outbreaks from occurring.
How can I find out more about Hib immunisation?
For more information on immunisation in Australia, visit the National Immunisation Schedule web page.
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Last reviewed: September 2022