Exposing Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), The Silent Invader

The Haemophilus influenzae bacterium causes life-threatening disease that occurs mainly in children. There are actually many types of H. influenzae bacteria, but the most common is Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Waiting For The Opportune Moment

Hib bacteria usually lives in a person’s nose or throat without causing disease or harm. This means that the Hib bacteria is actually passed around or spreads almost unknowingly through close contact and droplets from an infected persons cough or sneeze. Severe infections result only when Hib invades part of the body that are normally free from germs like the blood and spinal fluid. This is known as invasive disease.

Hib Is Not The Flu, Then What Is It?

In spite of its name, H. influenzae does not cause influenza (the ‘flu’). In fact, Hib most commonly causes pneumonia (a lung infection) but it has also been known to cause bacteremia (lung infection), meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord). Rarely does it cause epiglottis (an inflammation of the windpipe causing breathing trouble), cellulitis (skin infection), and infectious arthritis.

Identifying The Three Amigos of Hib

The symptoms of Hib are hard to generalise. The symptoms actually differ depending on the type of infection.

1. Pneumonia (most common)

This happens when the lungs become infected and become inflamed (swollen). Its symptoms include:

  • Fever (but older people may have lower than normal body temperature)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain that comes and goes with breathing
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Excessive tiredness

2. Bacteraemia (2nd common)

This means infection of the blood and typically characterised by:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Pain in the belly
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Altered mental status (confusion)

3. Meningitis (3rd common)

Meningitis is an infection covering the brain and the spinal chord.

      • Fever
      • Headache
      • Stiff neck
      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
      • Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
      • Altered mental status (confusion)
      • Meningitis may cause infants to appear lethargic (limp, less alert, tired) or irritable.       They may even vomit or refuse to feed.

The Hib Vaccine

All this can be avoided by getting the Hib vaccine. It prevents Hib specifically and not the other types of Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. To encourage uptake, the Hib vaccine is provided by our government under the Malaysian NIP and given at 2, 3 and 5 months, followed by a booster dose at 18 months.

Parents should take note that babies under 24 months who have recovered from natural Hib infections may not have develop immunity. It is recommended that in such cases, the child still get the vaccine to protect against future re-infections.

Catch up vaccines doses are available for adults who missed this vaccine. Please consult your doctor at your local hospital or clinic.

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