Haemophilus Influenzae B Infection

Haemophilus influenzae bacteria cultured on a blood agar plate

Haemophilus influenzae B (HiB) is a bacterial infection that in children that causes meningitis or epiglottitis, and in adults may affect numerous organs. It is spread by close contact and can cause infections in any age group, but is far more serious in children.

In children it may cause:-

  • Meningitis, which is an infection of the meninges (covering of the brain) that results in a fever, irritability, lethargy, seizures and coma.
    The onset of meningitis may be so rapid that the child may be permanently affected (e.g. by deafness, learning difficulties and other forms of brain damage) before any treatment can work.
  • Epiglottitis, which is a life threatening infection of a piece of cartilage at the back of the throat that may swell and block the airways.

Blood and fluid from the spinal cord can be tested to confirm the diagnosis.

Illustration showing method of intubation

Intubation

In children potent antibiotics are needed for treatment, and they must be given by injection. The swollen epiglottis (piece of cartilage at the back of the throat) may choke the child before the antibiotics can work, so urgent hospitalisation and intubation (placing a tube into the throat to permit breathing) is essential.

Good recovery occurs if the infection is diagnosed and treated early, but permanent damage or death are possible in children if treatment delayed.

A vaccine for infants has been available since 1993 to prevent HiB infections. It is given as three or four doses, two months apart, starting at two months of age. It is not recommended for use in adults, but is unlikely to cause problems if given accidentally.

Common side effects may include redness and soreness at the injection site, while unusual effects may include irritability, tiredness, sleeplessness, diarrhoea and a rash. It should be used with caution in fever, acute infection or immune system problems. It must not be inject into a vein.

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