Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib)

Hib has been around for decades. Before we started using the Hib immunization in Canada, about one in every 200 children got some form of serious Hib infection before age five; 2,000 people became sick every year with Hib infections; and 1,000 of these people were sick with meningitis.

Since immunization began in 1988, the number of cases each year has dropped by 90%. Hib infections could become common in Canada again if we stop immunizing.

What is Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)?

Contrary to its name, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) is not a type of influenza. It’s a bacterium that causes most lower respiratory tract (trachea and lungs) infections. It got its name before scientists identified its true nature.

The infection can develop into meningitis and pneumonia, which can lead to death, especially in children under the age of five. Only one generation ago, Hib infections caused many deaths every year in Canada. Before Hib immunization was available, there was little you could do to protect yourself from getting these serious infections. Today, thanks to the immunization, very few Canadians get sick or die from these serious infections. However, Hib still causes millions of infections and thousands of deaths in countries where the immunization is not widely used.

Hib is often referred to as a “hidden” disease. Unlike other diseases like polio or measles, Hib doesn’t have a specific illness attached to it. Instead, it causes a number of different illnesses. Hib can develop into pneumonia and bronchitis, and ear, eyes and sinus infections or meningitis, all of which can also be caused by other germs. This makes it very difficult to diagnose Hib.

How does it spread?

You  catch Hib through direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated object. It can spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing and sharing drinks, and through touching objects that are contaminated.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs of Hib are the symptoms of the disease it develops into, whatever that happens to be.

Meningitis, one of the most serious results of Hib infection, develops two to four days after the initial infection. Sudden fever, severe headache and a stiff neck and back are some of the symptoms. Meningitis can lead to permanent hearing loss, paralysis, seizures, brain damage and death.

The Hib bacterium remains infectious as long as it’s in your body. This means you can pass it to others. With antibiotics, a person becomes non-infectious within 24 to 48 hours.

How can I protect myself and people around me?

The best protection is immunization. Hib disease is especially dangerous for young children and people with high-risk health problems

Hib can be given on its own, but most often it is given in combination with other immunizations.

In Yukon, Hib is a part of the combination immunization DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib, which protects infants and children from: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis B, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B, all in one shot.  

The Yukon immunization schedule recommends:

  • DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib  immunization at 2, 4 and 6 months of age

  • A dose (DTaP-IPV-Hib) at 18 months

    • After the dose at 18 months, the Hib series is complete.

Most children and adults have no reactions to immunization. Some people have minor reactions to the combined immunization. These reactions do not interfere with day-to-day activities and go away on their own in two to three days. The most common reaction is swelling and redness with or without tenderness around the injection site. A few people develop fever (one to 18 in 100 children immunized), headaches or muscle pain. If this is the case with your child, you many choose to give a fever medication such as acetaminophen if the fever is 38.5°C or higher.

Any fever medication, such as acetaminophen, before the immunization is not recommended.