Haemophilus influenzae Type B, “Hib” for short, is a type of bacteria that causes several different types of illness, depending on the site of the infection. It is of particular concern for persons with compromised immune systems. While the bacteria has the word influenza in its name, it does not cause the flu. People can be carriers of the bacteria without getting sick, presenting any symptoms, or even knowing that they are contagious. Because of this, it’s important to ensure children are vaccinated against the disease.
Hib is spread from infected persons via physical contact with their mucus or saliva, typically through sneezing or coughing. Infected persons can spread the bacteria as long as they are carrying it, even if they are not sick themselves. The disease is most common among children under five years of age who have not been vaccinated against it.
The primary symptom of a Hib infection is a mid-grade fever. Other signs of a Hib infection depend on the site of infection. Common illnesseses due to Hib and their accompanying symptoms are given below:
- Pneumonia: An infection of the lungs can cause cough, difficulty breathing, fever and chest pain. Consult a physician before taking cough medicines if you suspect pneumonia.
- Meningitis: If the infection occurs along the lining of the brain or spine, symptoms include chronic headache, stiffness in the neck, and occasionally include nausea and vomiting. If left untreated, meningitis can cause brain damage and even death.
- Epiglottitis: Symptoms of this severe throat infection include extreme difficulty breathing, sore throat, and drooling. If untreated, epiglottitis can cause death.
- Cellulitis: Symptoms of this skin infection include swollen, reddened skin that feels tender and hot. If left untreated, cellulitis can spread rapidly and become life-threatening.
- Septic arthritis: Hib can also cause swollen, sore, reddened joints and lead to damaged cartilage and bone. Prompt treatment is vital to prevent this.
- Ear infections: The symptom is an earache, and can spread if left untreated.
If a child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, especially if they are accompanied by severe symptoms as breathing problems or other signs of serious illnesses, call your closest hospital or take them to the emergency room immediately.
Hib is treated with a course of antibiotics. It is vital that the patient takes the entire course of antibiotics, regardless of whether symptoms have abated or if they have begun to feel better. This will ensure the infection is completely gone. Not taking the full course can result in the patient remaining contagious. It can also help to encourage the spread of antibiotic resistance in the bacteria.
The infected person must stay home from work or school for as long as symptoms persist, as well as for another day or two after they begin taking antibiotics. Anyone who has not been vaccinated against Hib should be kept away from an infected person, especially if they are young children, elderly persons or have compromised immune systems.
The single most effective means of preventing Hib disease is to get the entire series of injections in the Hib vaccine. This vaccine is administered as a set of three shots and a booster shot. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting with the first vaccination at 6 weeks, followed by a second at 10 weeks and a third at 14 weeks. The booster should be given between 12 and 18 months. It is important to complete the entire set of shots to ensure immunity to the disease.
Teenagers and adults who did not receive the Hib vaccine as babies typically are not given the vaccine unless they have compromised immune systems to unrelated health conditions. Unless a teenager or adult has a compromised immune system – typically due to HIV or complications of the spleen – they do not need to be concerned about contracting Hib.
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