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Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

9-minute read

If you think your child has meningitis, pneumonia or epiglottitis, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a bacteria.
  • Hib infection can cause infections such as meningitis and epiglottitis, which can cause death or long-term complications.
  • Hib infection is prevented by vaccination.
  • Hib vaccination is recommended for all babies from 2 months of age, and for other people at risk of Hib.
  • Hib infections can usually be treated with antibiotics.

What is haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)?

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a contagious bacteria. It can cause serious infections that can affect your:

Hib infection can happen quickly and can be fatal (cause death).

Hib is not the same as influenza B (the flu). Influenza is caused by a virus, not bacteria.

What are the symptoms of Hib?

Symptoms of Hib can appear 2 to 4 days after catching the bacteria. The symptoms depend on which part of your body is affected.

Meningitis

Hib can infect the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. This is called meningitis. Meningitis can cause symptoms such as:

If your baby has meningitis, they may:

  • be drowsy and tired
  • have a loss of appetite or be reluctant to feed
  • have a high fever and a bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head)

Epiglottitis

Hib can infect your epiglottis, which is a small flap of cartilage at the back of the throat. This can cause your epiglottis to become swollen, and cause epiglottitis.

Epiglottitis can cause:

Babies with epiglottitis will dribble a lot and be very unsettled.

Pneumonia

Hib can cause pneumonia, which is an infection in your lungs.

The symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • cough

Osteomyelitis and septic arthritis

Hib infection can also cause osteomyelitis, which is an infection of your bone. This can cause:

  • swelling
  • inflammation
  • pain over the bone

Hib infection can also cause septic arthritis, which is an infection of the joints.

Cellulitis

Hib can also cause cellulitis, which is an infection of the tissue under the skin.

This can cause areas of skin to become:

  • red
  • hot
  • swollen
  • tender

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes Hib?

Hib bacteria are spread through droplets from your nose or throat that are made by coughing and sneezing. You can catch Hib:

  • from contact with an infected person
  • by touching something that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on

A person does not need to have symptoms to spread Hib. This is because Hib bacteria can live in the throat of some people without causing symptoms.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you or your child have Hib, visit your doctor. They can diagnose your condition and provide treatment.

Meningitis, epiglottitis and pneumonia develop quickly and can be fatal if 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.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is Hib diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose Hib by:

  • talking to you about your symptoms
  • doing a physical examination

Your doctor may do tests such as:

How is Hib treated?

Treatment for Hib may depend on the type of infection you have and your symptoms.

Usually, Hib is treated with antibiotics for 10 days. You may also need care in hospital, such as:

  • medicine to manage fever or pain
  • extra fluids

Can Hib be prevented?

If you have had contact with a Hib infected person, a short course of antibiotics may prevent you from catching the disease.

Hib can be prevented by vaccination. Before Hib vaccination was introduced in 1993, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in young children. Hib infections are now rare in Australia.

There are some people at higher risk of Hib infection, such as:

  • unvaccinated children under 5 years of age
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children
  • people aged over 65 years
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with HIV infection and AIDS
  • people with a non-functioning spleen
  • people receiving cancer treatments or bone marrow transplant

What are the recommendations for the Hib vaccine?

Vaccination is your best protection against Hib. If you are at risk of Hib infection, you should get vaccinated against Hib.

See more details about the Hib vaccine in the table below.

What age is it recommended?

Vaccination is given at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 18 months
How many doses are required? 4
How is it administered? Injection
Is it free?

It is free for:

  • eligible people under 20 years old
  • people who have little to no spleen function
  • refugees and humanitarian of any age who did not have the vaccine as a child

Common side effects

The vaccine is very safe. Common side effects include redness and swelling where the needle goes in.

A very small number of children (1 in 50) have a mild fever that lasts for a short time.


There are different vaccines available for Hib. You can talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

You can also ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccination based on your situation.

How is the spread of Hib prevented?

Hib is a nationally notifiable disease. This means that if you have Hib, your doctor will tell your local public health unit. They will try to trace the people you have been in contact with. This helps prevent large outbreaks from occurring.

If your child is diagnosed with Hib, keep them home from childcare or school until they have finished their course of antibiotics.

Complications of Hib

Meningitis, epiglottitis and pneumonia caused by Hib infection can cause death. Meningitis and epiglottitis are almost always fatal if left untreated.

Meningitis can also cause long-term brain damage, such as:

Resources and Support

For more information on Hib and immunisation in Australia, you can visit the Department of Health website, which contains the:

The Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation website has tools to help you make decisions about immunisation and your family.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023


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