Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

Hib is an illness caused by the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae type b, and can result in various types if infection, including meningitis, pneumonia and blood poisoning. The bacterium can also cause epiglottitis – an infection of the epiglottis – and arthritis. Meningitis is the most severe condition caused by Hib, especially in children. Symptoms include headaches, a stiff neck, vomiting, fever and drowsiness. Pneumonia caused by Hib does not much differ from ordinary pneumonia and is often accompanied by coughing, chest tightness, coughing up phlegm and fever.

Hib vaccination

In 1993, the Hib vaccine was included in the Dutch National Immunisation Programme. Since then, infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b are rare.  According to the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the number of Hib infections has now dropped to approximately thirty cases a year. Nonetheless, people who are in close contact with someone who is infected, such as a family member, still run the risk of becoming ill. Also, people who have no spleen – or a malfunctioning spleen – have an increased risk. This also goes for infants who have not (yet) received all the necessary vaccinations, and people who suffer form a disorder of the immune system. The bacterium is usually located in the nasopharynx and spreads through the air. The bacteria spreads through coughing, sneezing, speaking, and inhaling infected droplets. The incubation period is usually two to four days. The Hib vaccine is routinely offered to infants as part of vaccination programme in combination with the DKTP and Hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine is usually given when infants are 8, 12 and 16 weeks old and then again when they are eleven months old.

Preventing and curing Hib

In addition to the Hib vaccination, which works well, there are several ways to guard yourself against the risk of infection. If you or a family member has a cold, it is recommended to use paper tissues. Throw these away after use and thoroughly wash your hands. If you have no paper tissues at hand, it is wise to cover your nose and mouth – using your hand or elbow – when coughing or sneezing and to wash your hands afterwards, of course. If an infection indeed leads to illness, than this disease must be treated with antibiotics, often during a brief hospital admission.