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Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

7-minute read

What is haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)?

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is a contagious disease that 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. But Hib infections are now rare in Australia.

Hib is not the same as influenza (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 infection. The symptoms depend on which part of the body is affected:

  • Meningitis: The person may have 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: The person may have breathing difficulties, fever, paleness and difficulty swallowing. Babies with epiglottitis will dribble a lot and be very unsettled.
  • Pneumonia: The person may have shortness of breath, fever, lack of energy, loss of appetite, headache, chest pain and cough.
  • Osteomyelitis: The person may experience swelling, inflammation and pain over the bone
  • Cellulitis: The person may have 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.

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

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 via 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, people aged over 65, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and people with weakened immune systems.

How is Hib diagnosed?

Hib is diagnosed 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.

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

How is Hib managed?

Treatment for Hib will depend on the type of infection. If you are diagnosed with the condition, you will normally need to take antibiotics for 10 days. Sometimes you will need to be cared for in hospital. You may also need medicine to control the fever, pain relief, extra fluids and help with breathing.

Can Hib be prevented?

If you have close contact with someone who has Hib, you may be able to take antibiotics to prevent you from getting infected.

Vaccination against Hib is recommended for all babies from 2 months of age. They will need 3 doses — at 2, 4 and 6 months — and a booster at 18 months. 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.

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?

Free for children aged 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 18 months.

Find out more on the Department of Health 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 (2%) have a mild fever that lasts for a short time.

Resources and support

  • For more information on immunisation in Australia, visit the National Immunisation Schedule web page.
  • If you’re concerned because you have symptoms of Hib, see your doctor or use healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to find out what to do next.

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

Last reviewed: April 2021

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