Haemophilus influenzae, or H. influenzae, represents a group of bacteria that may cause different types of infections in infants and children. H. influenzae most commonly causes ear, eye, or sinus infections, and pneumonia. A more serious strain of the bacteria called H. influenzae type b has been nearly eliminated in the United States due to the development of an effective vaccine, which has been available since 1988. The more serious strain was responsible for causing meningitis (infection of the membranes that surround the brain) and a life-threatening infection called epiglottitis (infection of the area of the throat that covers and protects the voice box and trachea during swallowing). Both meningitis and epiglottitis can be caused by other bacteria, however. In rare cases, children may still develop H. influenzae type b infections. This can occur if the child has not completed his/her series of immunizations or in older children who did not receive the vaccine as an infant.
The H. influenzae bacteria live in the upper respiratory tract and are usually transmitted by close contact with an infected individual. Droplets in the air from a sneeze or cough can be inhaled and may also cause infection.
The following are the most common symptoms of H. influenzae infections. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of H. influenzae infection may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
Your child's doctor may diagnose the illness based on clinical examination and a medical history. Specific tests will depend on the location of the infection. In some cases, your doctor may take a culture of fluid from the eye, ear, blood, or spinal fluid. In other situations, this may be not be possible and a diagnosis will be made based on your child's specific symptoms. Other diagnostic tests may include:
Treatment for H. influenzae greatly depends on which area of the body is infected. Specific treatment for H. influenzae will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Regardless of the location, antibiotics may be used to treat infections caused by H. influenzae. The length of treatment varies depending on the location and severity of the infection. Other therapy will be supportive (aimed at treating the symptoms present).
Immunization against type b, which is the most invasive strain of H. influenzae, is routinely administered in a three- or four-part series. This vaccine is often referred to as the "Hib" vaccine. Primary doses are given at 2 and 4 months of age or at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, based on the brand used by the physician's office. A booster is then given between 12 and 15 months of age. If a child did not receive the vaccine and is older than 5 years, it may not be necessary for him/her to be immunized. Other populations that should be encouraged to receive the vaccine include the following:
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