If you’re like many parents, you may have been unfamiliar with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infections until your pediatrician recommended a vaccine to protect your child against them. These Hib diseases are potentially serious. Thanks to the vaccine, they are preventable.
Bacterial infections caused by Hib are usually spread by sneezing and coughing and are responsible for childhood illnesses such as meningitis and epiglottitis (swelling of the epiglottis in the back of the throat). They can also cause some cases of pneumonia and ear infections. Despite the name of these bacteria, they are not responsible for the flu or influenza.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of Hib depend on the specific disease that it causes. For instance:
is an inflammation and swelling of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. Until a vaccine became available, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. It occurs most often in children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Symptoms include a fever, a decrease in appetite, an increase in crying or irritability, seizures, excessive sleepiness, and vomiting. In children older than 2 years, there may be additional symptoms such as a headache, a stiff neck, and back pain.
is a rare but serious inflammation in the throat, affecting the epiglottis (a flap of tissue at the back of the throat) and occurring most often in children 2 to 4 years of age. Your child’s first symptoms will probably be a severe sore throat and fever (typically a temperature greater than 101°F [38.3°C]), followed by a raspy or harsh sound called stridor during breathing. As the epiglottis becomes swollen, it can make swallowing difficult, trigger drooling, and may block normal breathing. Some children with epiglottitis have choked to death. Prompt treatment usually can prevent this.
Other Hib infections. This bacteria causes infection in the joints (arthritis
), bones (osteomyelitis), skin of the face (cheek or around the eye), lungs (pneumonia
), and even the heart (pericarditis). Signs of infections in these areas include fever, swelling, pain, and redness along with a drastic decrease in energy and activity.
When to Call Your Pediatrician
Because timely treatment is important for Hib infections, contact your pediatrician immediately if you notice that your child has any of the symptoms that have been described.
If your child has meningitis, she will be hospitalized and receive intravenous antibiotics and nourishment. She’ll also be observed carefully for potentially serious complications.