Haemophilus Influenzae Type B: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

What do you know about Haemophilus Influenza Type B or Hib? Here’s what you need to know about the potentially life-threatening infection, which can easily be prevented with a Hib vaccine.

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What is Hib?

Short for Haemophilus Influenzae Type B, Hib is a bacterium that can cause a number of life-threatening infections or diseases mainly in children under the age of five. Although it affects people worldwide, Hib can be prevented in both adults and children through vaccination.

Hib Causes and Risk Factors

Hib spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets, which are released when a person coughs or sneezes. Usually the Hib bacteria remains in the infected person’s nose and throat, without manifesting symptoms. However, there are times when the bacteria may spread to a person’s lungs or bloodstream causing a potentially serious infection in one’s blood, joints, bones or heart.  

Anyone may contract the Hib bacteria, but children under the age of five are more susceptible to it.

Hib Symptoms and Signs

The signs and symptoms associated with an Hib infection can be critical to the health of children under the age of one and those with weaker immune systems. While a fever is one of the most common symptoms of an Hib infection, you or your child may also show other symptoms depending on where the infection is in the body.

These include:
Severe headache
Stiff neck
Severe drowisiness or fatigue
Breathing difficulties
Loss of consciousness
Convulsions or seizures

Complications of a Hib Infection

If you or your child display any of the above symptoms, be sure to seek urgent medical attention. If left unattended, an Hib infection can lead to life-threatening complications, which can often be fatal for young children. 

Some complications associated with the Hib bacteria include:
Inflammation of the membranes covering your brain and spinal cord, known as meningitis. Meningitis can lead to a fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and, in more serious cases, permanent brain damage and even death 
Pneumonia, a lung infection that may cause breathing problems 
Severe infection of the epiglottis (flexible cartilage that covers the gap in the vocal cords during swallowing), which may cause a sore throat, drooling and serious breathing problems, including suffocation and blockage of airways 
Septic arthritis, a joint infection that may lead to red, swollen and sore joints and reduced mobility
Blood poisoning, or septicaemia

Diagnosing a Hib Infection

This may involve a series of tests, including a physical examination, blood test, and a test of the fluid around the spine.

Hib Treatment Options

The course of treatment for an Hib infection may vary, depending on the severity of your condition. Doctors often treat the infection with antibiotics until the infection is completely gone.  In most cases, however, the patient may need to be hospitalised and monitored closely for treatment and management of complications such as meningitis and pneumonia.

Prevention of Hib Infection

One of the best ways to protect yourself and your children from the Hib infection is through vaccination*. Children under the age of five and adults with weakened immune systems can be vaccinated against the Hib bacteria with an Hib vaccine. 

The vaccine may be given together with a series of other vaccines or as part of a combination of vaccines. The latter is a newer childhood vaccination that combines vaccines against five or six diseases into a single injection and is known as the 5-in-1 or 6-in-1 vaccine.

The 5-in-1 vaccine combines vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus (DTaP), polio and Hib in one injection. The 6-in-1 vaccine combines vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis, tetanus (DTaP), polio, Hib, and hepatitis B in one injection.

Singapore citizens can receive subsidies for the 5-in-1 vaccine at polyclinics.

*Children over the age of five and adults do not usually need the Hib vaccine. 

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Haemophilus Influenzae Type B: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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