Health conditions

Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)

  • Hib is a bacterium commonly found in the upper respiratory tract (windpipe, back of mouth and nose).
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) can cause infection most commonly in young children less than 5 years of age.
  • It is spread in the fine droplets that are shed through coughing, sneezing and spluttering.
What is Hib disease?

When Hib invades the body from the throat or nose, this infection can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord), epiglottitis (inflammation of a part of the lower throat), joint infections/arthritis and pneumonia (lung infection). It can take between 2 and 4 days after infection for symptoms to show.

What are the signs of Hib disease?

Babies with meningitis may have drowsiness, poor feeding, bulging fontanelles (the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head) and high fever.

Older children with meningitis typically have neck stiffness and sensitivity to light. Children with epiglottitis may have breathing difficulties and be dribbling and anxious. Both meningitis and epiglottitis can develop quickly and if left untreated, can rapidly cause death.

How easy is it to catch Hib disease?

Hib disease is now very uncommon because most children are vaccinated. Although infection is spread in droplets that are shed from the nose or throat, it is not easy to catch the disease.

In the general population, unvaccinated children under 5 years of age and elderly people (>65 years of age) are at highest risk of acquiring Hib disease.

How can Hib disease be prevented?

The best way to prevent Hib disease is to ensure all children are vaccinated according to the National Immunisation Program Schedule (see below).

People with Hib disease should not attend childcare or school until they are well and have completed an appropriate course of antibiotics.

In certain circumstances, a short course of antibiotics may be recommended for those in very close contact with someone who has Hib disease. The purpose of the antibiotic is to eliminate the Hib bacteria from the nose or throat of those who may be carrying it and so prevent the bacteria from being passed to those most susceptible to Hib disease. However, cases of disease may occur despite taking the antibiotic so contacts must still be alert for symptoms.

Is there a vaccine against Hib disease?

Yes, Hib is a vaccine preventable disease. Hib vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. It is listed on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule (external link) and funded for children under the Immunise Australia Program (external link).

To receive Hib immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. Contact your local public health unit.

Doses of vaccine are given at 6-8 weeks then at, 4 and 6 months of age, with a booster dose at 12 months.

It is important to note that the vaccine is provided at no cost, however a consultation fee may apply.

For information about immunisation in your area contact your State or Territory Health Department (external link).

For technical information or information about vaccines, refer to the Hib section of the Australian Immunisation Handbook (external link).

Where to get help

  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

More information

Remember

  • HIB is a bacterium commonly found in the upper respiratory tract (windpipe, back of mouth and nose).
  • Unvaccinated people under 5 years old or over 65 years old are at highest risk.
  • Hib is a vaccine preventable disease and is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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