Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a type of bacteria that can cause life-threatening infections. Babies and children are most at risk of getting seriously ill and can get vaccinated against it.
Complications of Hib infection
A Hib infection can cause serious conditions including:
- infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
- a severe immune reaction (sepsis)
- infection of part of your windpipe (epiglottitis)
- infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
You can become very ill with these conditions and will need treatment in hospital.
Even with successful treatment, there may be lasting effects such as hearing loss, seizures, loss of limbs and learning disabilities.
Symptoms of a Hib infection
Symptoms of Hib infection depend on what part of the body is affected.
Symptoms may include:
- a high temperature
- difficulty breathing – babies may make grunting noises
- being sleepier than normal or difficult to wake
- blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue – on brown or black skin this may be noticeable under the nails or around the eyes
- a rash that looks like small bruises or bleeding under the skin and does not disappear when you press a glass against it
- a headache
- a sore throat
- swollen or painful joints
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you, your child or someone else:
- have severe difficulty breathing
- have blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue – on brown or black skin this may be easier to see on the lips, tongue, gums and under the nails or around the eyes
- have a rash that looks like small bruises or bleeding under the skin and does not fade when you press a glass against it
- have a seizure (a fit)
- is not responding normally
If you or someone you look after has any of these symptoms, call 999 or go to A&E. Trust your instincts.
Urgent advice: Call 111 now if you, your child or someone else:
- have difficulty breathing
- feels very unwell or feels there's something seriously wrong
- have dark yellow or brown pee or peeing less than normal, for example, your baby has fewer wet nappies
- keep being sick and cannot keep any food down (or milk for babies and young children)
- has a high or low temperature, feels hot or cold to touch, or is shivering
Do not worry if you're not sure, it's still best to call 111.
They can tell you what to do, get a nurse or doctor to call you, or call you an ambulance.
Treatment for Hib infection
The main treatment for a Hib infection is antibiotics. You'll usually need to be treated in hospital.
You may be given oxygen and other medicines such as steroids, depending on your symptoms. Other treatments, including surgery, may also be needed.
If you have a Hib infection, your close contacts, such as anyone you live with, may be offered antibiotics to stop them getting ill.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent serious Hib infections.
Vaccines that protect against Hib are offered to babies as part of the NHS vaccination schedule.
There are 2 vaccines that protect against Hib:
- 6-in-1 vaccine – given in 3 doses at 8, 12 and 16 weeks old
- Hib/Men C vaccine – a booster vaccine given at 1 year old
If your child was not vaccinated as a baby, you can ask your GP about how they can get it.
How Hib spreads
Hib is spread by sneezing and coughing, the same as how colds and flu spread.
Hib bacteria can live in the nose and throat of many healthy people without causing any problems. But healthy people can still pass it on and cause others to get ill.
Some people are more at risk of getting seriously ill from a Hib infection including:
- babies and young children
- people with a weakened immune system, including people who have had their spleen removed
- older people
Page last reviewed: 4 April 2023
Next review due: 4 April 2026