Keep Hib Germs Away: Vaccination Can Prevent Serious Childhood Illness

August 1, 2019

The bottom line: Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) can cause several different severe illnesses, including meningitis and pneumonia. Hib illnesses, which can cause long-term complications or even death, mostly affect children under 5 years of age. Two different vaccinations are available to protect people against this disease. 

knapp hib dotm

Many things aren’t harmful until they are. This applies to the Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) bacteria: It typically can live in our noses and throats without causing harm, but if Hib moves to other parts of the body, it can cause serious illness or even death.

Hib spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or anything else that shares mucus and saliva, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Invasive Hib disease occurs if the germs travel to the lungs or bloodstream, CDC says.

At its peak, some 20,000 children in the United States got Hib disease each year, and about one in 20 died from it.

Sickness from this deadly bacteria was common, and it was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among small children in this country,” said Elizabeth Knapp, MD, an Austin pediatrician and member of the Texas Medical Association. “Every pediatrician had infant patients suffering this infection.”

A vaccination introduced in the 1980s was a game-changer, nearly eliminating Hib disease. Thanks to the vaccine, cases of invasive Hib disease have dropped by more than 99%, CDC reports.

CDC recommends infants get vaccinated against Hib. Two types of Hib vaccine are available, with doses needed at 2, 4, and sometimes 6 months, and again at 12 to 15 months of age. Older children and adults usually do not need a Hib vaccine, except for some who have certain medical conditions such as sickle cell disease. Your child’s doctor can recommend what is best.

Because of the vaccine’s effectiveness, few people are aware of the various illnesses Hib germs can cause. Dr. Knapp mentioned meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, which is the most common Hib-related illness. This infection often leads to deafness and permanent damage, such as trouble learning, she said. Hib also can cause infections of the blood, joints, bones, and covering of the heart. Pneumonia, a lung infection, or a swollen throat that makes breathing difficult also can result from Hib.

Antibiotics are used to treat Hib-related infections. Children can end up in the hospital if they develop more serious illnesses and might even need breathing support.

All of this is avoidable with a few shots, said Dr. Knapp.

We all want to wrap babies in as much protection as possible,” she said. “We can prevent babies from getting a severe throat infection or brain infection by giving them this Haemophilus vaccine, so make sure your baby is up to date to protect him or her from this disease.”

This release is part of a monthly TMA series highlighting contagious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. Some diseases covered thus far are: 

TMA designed the series to inform patients of the facts about these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness. Visit the TMA website to see  efforts to raise immunization awareness and how funding is used to increase vaccination rates.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

Be Wise – ImmunizeSM is a joint initiative led by TMA physicians and medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded in 2019 by the TMA Foundation thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute, Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families.   Be Wise – Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.


TMA Contacts:  Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320

Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336

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Last Updated On

August 01, 2019

Originally Published On

August 01, 2019