Hib Disease (Haemophilus Influenzae Type b)
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you heard about Hib and wonder what it is. The good news is, if you live in the United States, you were probably vaccinated against Hib infections when you were a baby.
Here’s more about Hib.
What Is Hib?
Hib is short for Haemophilus influenzae type b. It’s a type of bacteria that can cause a number of different illnesses: Hib infection might lead people to develop anything from skin infections to more serious problems like blood infections or meningitis.
Hib disease usually isn’t a big worry for healthy teens. But it can be a concern for people with weakened immune systems.
Even though the bacteria has “influenza” in its name, Hib doesn’t cause people to get the flu. Some people can carry the bacteria and not get sick. They might not even know they have the bacteria in their nose and throat.
Thanks to a vaccine that became common in the 1980s, Hib is pretty rare in U.S. kids and teens. But it is a big worry for people in developing nations because the vaccine is less common.
How Do People Get It?
Hib spreads through mucus or saliva. Most infections happen when someone who has the Hib bacteria in his or her nose or throat sneezes or coughs around a person who hasn’t been fully vaccinated. People who have Hib can transmit the infection to others for as long as the bacteria remain in their systems, even if they aren’t sick.
Hib disease is most common in kids under 5 years old who haven’t been vaccinated against it. But the bacteria also can infect anyone who didn’t get all the Hib shots. (The Hib vaccine is a series of three or four shots that’s usually given to babies in the United States.)
Signs & Symptoms
Someone who has Hib disease will have a fever. Other problems from Hib disease depend on where in the body the infection is. Here are some examples:
- Meningitis. Someone with meningitis may have a headache and a stiff neck, and might throw up. Meningitis is a serious condition that can cause permanent brain damage and even death.
- Pneumonia. Someone with pneumonia will have a cough and problems with breathing.
- Epiglottitis. This severe throat infection causes a sore throat, drooling, and serious breathing trouble.
- Cellulitis. Someone with this skin infection may have skin that is red and tender.
- Arthritis. This is a joint infection. People with arthritis from Hib bacteria may notice one of their joints is red, swollen, and very sore.
- Ear infections from Hib can cause severe ear pain.
When to Call a Doctor
Call your doctor if you haven’t had the Hib vaccine (or you didn’t get all your Hib shots) and you worry that you might be getting one of the infections described above. If you haven’t had all your Hib shots, you’ll also want to call a doctor if you know that you’ve been around someone who has Hib.
If you have serious symptoms, like severe breathing problems, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room right away.
What Doctors Do
The doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms. In some cases, doctors take a small sample of blood or another body fluid for testing.
Doctors treat Hib disease with antibiotic medications. Antibiotics get rid of bacteria. Someone with Hib needs to take all of the antibiotics, even if he or she starts feeling better. This is to be sure the infection is completely gone. The doctor also can give someone tips on how to feel better until the infection has gone away.
With Hib disease, a person has to stay home from school or work as long as he or she has symptoms and for an additional day or two after starting antibiotics. Someone with Hib needs to stay away from anyone who hasn’t had the Hib vaccine, especially newborn babies or elderly people, who might not have strong immune systems.
Can I Prevent Hib?
The best way to prevent getting Hib disease is to have all of the shots in the Hib vaccine series. If you live in the United States, you probably got these shots as a baby. You can check with your doctor to be sure.
Doctors don’t usually give Hib shots to teens because the disease isn’t likely to be a problem for people over 5 years old. There’s one exception, though: Doctors do recommend giving Hib vaccines to teens who have weakened immune systems from health conditions like HIV or asplenia (where someone’s spleen has been removed or it’s not working properly).
The bottom line is that most teens don’t need to worry about Hib unless they have health problems that put them at risk. But it’s still good to know about it if you have a baby brother or sister who needs to get the full series of shots!
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014