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Facts About...


What is it?

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Haemophilus b or Hib) infection is caused by a germ that can cause meningitis and other infections. Meningitis is a serious infection of the fluid and lining that covers the spinal cord. Hib can also affect the epiglottis (in the throat), blood, lungs, joints, bones and skin. Children under 5 years of age and children who attend childcare centers are at the highest risk for Hib infection. The risk of Hib infection in older children and adults is very low.

Until the early 1990s, Hib was recognized as the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in Canada. Since routine vaccination was introduced in 1987, invasive Hib infection has decreased by 99% to less than 1 case per 100 000 children under 5 years of age.

How is it spread?

The Hib germ can be spread from person to person through close, direct contact, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the face of another. It can also be spread by oral contact, such as kissing or sharing drinks. Bacteria can survive outside of the body for a number of hours, so spread may also occur by touching contaminated objects (e.g., toys shared between children).

What do I look for?

Symptoms of Hib infections can develop quickly (in a matter of a few hours) or more gradually (over a few days). Symptoms can be mild to severe. The most common is an infection of the nose and throat with no symptoms but can lead to ear infections, eye infections and pneumonia. Symptoms vary depending on the area of the body infected, and can include fever, anorexia, nausea and vomiting and, in the case of pneumonia, cough and difficulty breathing.

Invasive Hib infections are the least common, but cause the most severe symptoms.
Examples of invasive infections include:

  • Meningitis: Inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord, which results in fever, headache, stiff neck and change in consciousness or behavior.
  • Epiglottitis: Infection of the flap of skin at the back of the throat, which results in sore throat and difficulty breathing that progresses rapidly. It is considered a medical emergency.
  • Bacteremia: Bacteria in the bloodstream may result in fever, chills, and low blood pressure and may lead to sepsis.
  • Infections of the joints and bones result in sudden onset of fever, pain in the affected area, redness and swelling.

How is it treated?

In less severe cases, antibiotics can be taken by mouth. In more severe cases of infection, treatment may include 10 or more days of IV antibiotics. For people who have been in close contact with someone with a Hib infection, it may be recommended that an antibiotic be taken to prevent them from getting sick.

  • How can I protect myself?
  • Hib infection is best prevented by vaccination
  • See Facts About... Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Polio and Haemophilus influenzae B Vaccine
  • Keep up to date with vaccinations and speak to your doctor/health care provider about your need for other vaccines.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow and encourage others to do the same.
  • Wash your hands after handling nose and throat discharges (e.g., after disposal of facial tissues containing nose and throat discharges).
  • Do not share water bottles, straws, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, toys or anything else that has been in contact with saliva, nose or throat secretions.
  • If you are ill, stay at home and isolate yourself from others.

June 30, 2016

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