Hib disease (Haemophilus influenzae type b)

Key disease facts

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacterium which can cause a range of very serious diseases, particularly in children under the age of 5. There are very few cases of Hib disease in older children and adults. 60% of cases of Hib disease result in meningitis, and 15% of cases result in epiglottitis. Hib can also cause severe pneumonia.

Before a vaccine was available, Hib disease was the main cause of meningitis in young children in the UK. Worldwide, it is still a major cause of death in children under 5. The World Health Organization estimates that Hib caused at least 8 million cases of serious disease in 2000. At least 250,000 young children die each year from Hib disease.

Hib disease – Matthew’s story

Three-year-old Matthew was hospitalised with Hib disease which almost killed him. He had not been vaccinated. Grateful thanks to PKIDs (Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases) and Shot by Shot for permission to use this film.

What are the symptoms?

Meningitis:

  • is the inflammation of the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord.
  • is very difficult to spot in the early stages.
  • Early symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell, just like in many mild illnesses (but in babies under 3 months old there may be no sign of fever).
  • Other symptoms include high-pitched screaming in babies, being difficult to wake, and tense or bulging soft spot on head.
  • The disease progresses very quickly, and can kill in a matter of hours.
  • 1 in 20 children who develop Hib meningitis die.
  • Almost 1 in 3 children who survive Hib meningitis will have lasting problems, including loss of hearing, loss of sight, learning and language disabilities, or seizures.
  • See the Meningitis Research Foundation website for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of meningitis.

Epiglottitis:

  • is inflammation of the epiglottis, the flap of cartilage which covers the windpipe.
  • can cause serious breathing difficulties, which may become life-threatening if not quickly treated.

How is it passed on?

Hib is spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with someone who is infected or carrying the disease without knowing it. People (especially children under 4 years of age) can carry Hib bacteria in their nose and throat harmlessly, without showing signs of the disease. Before the Hib vaccine was introduced, about 4 in every 100 pre-school children carried the Hib bacteria in their throat. Since the vaccine was introduced in 2004, carriage rates have fallen below the level of detection in young children.

What protection is available?

The only way to protect against the disease is vaccination; in the UK, babies are protected by the 5-in-1 vaccine and the Hib/MenC vaccine.

More information about the disease

Before the introduction of the vaccine in 1992, around one in every 600 children developed some form of invasive Hib disease before their fifth birthday. Read how two sisters developed Hib meningitis independently , and how one lost both her legs to the disease.

In 1991, the year before the vaccine was introduced, there were 759 reported cases of invasive Hib in children under five in England. In 2014, there were only 2 confirmed cases in this age group.

Source: Public Health England

Page last updated: 
Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Vaccines