What is Hib?

Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) is a type of bacteria that can infect the airways, skin, ears or brain.

Hib infections can be serious. Symptoms include:

  • swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • pneumonia
  • swelling above the voice box (epiglottitis)
  • swelling and pain in the joints (septic arthritis)
  • infection of the skin (cellulitis).

A severe Hib infection can cause deafness, brain damage and even death.

Hib was once a common cause of life-threatening infections, especially in children under two years old. Since Hib vaccines were included in the immunisation schedule in 1993, Hib infections in Australia have gone down by more than 95 per cent.

A Hib infection is caused by a type of bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae type b.

Hib bacteria can live in the nose and throat of healthy people without causing illness.

Hib is not a type of influenza, or the flu as it is commonly known. The flu is caused by a virus and Hib is caused by bacteria.

What are the symptoms of a Hib infection?

Symptoms usually start about two to four days after being infected with Hib. Symptoms can get worse very quickly and will possibly need urgent medical attention.

Depending on the type of infection, symptoms of Hib can include:

  • fever
  • severe headache
  • a stiff neck
  • fits or seizures
  • severe drowsiness
  • difficulty waking up
  • loss of consciousness
  • shortness of breath, cough and breathing problems
  • restlessness
  • drooling
  • joint pain, swelling and reduced movement of joints
  • red, tender skin.

Who is at risk from Hib infections?

Babies and young children have the highest risk of serious disease from Hib.

Hib can live in the throats of healthy people without causing any symptoms. These people can pass it on to others, including babies and young children.

How do you get a Hib infection?

Hib bacteria can spread:

  • when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes it in
  • if you touch things that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on.

How do you prevent a Hib infection?

Vaccination is the best protection against Hib infections.

Hib vaccines protect you from getting infected and prevent serious disease. For more information on Hib immunisation, see Hib immunisation service.

If you have a Hib infection, you can help stop the disease spreading by:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread the infection – your doctor will tell you when you are no longer infectious and it is safe to go back
  • washing your hands often
  • covering your coughs and sneezes.

Sometimes, people who live with a person with a Hib infection will need antibiotics to stop them being infected.

How do you know you have a Hib infection?

If you think you or one of your family members has Hib, see your doctor urgently.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. If your doctor thinks you have Hib, they can test your blood or the fluid from the area where the infection is.

How do you get treated for Hib?

Hib is treated with antibiotics, usually in hospital. Some people will need treatment in intensive care.

More information

Contacts

If you need advice or more information about immunisation, go to our Immunisation contacts page.

Last updated: 
4 June 2018