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Hib

Haemophilus influenzae type b, called Hib for short, is a highly contagious bacterium spread by coughs, sneezes and close contact. Thanks to vaccines, it is rarely seen in the developed world anymore and the small number of cases are usually seen in adults with long-term medical conditions, rather than children.

For many people, Hib is "non-invasive", meaning it infects them without serious symptoms. For a small percentage, however, the infection becomes "invasive" and can then cause several serious illnesses, especially in young children. The most common and most dangerous consequence of invasive Hib is meningitis, a brain or spinal cord infection, which is fatal in around 5% of cases and otherwise can lead to long term deafness, seizures and learning disabilities.

Overall, before the vaccine was introduced in England and Wales, about 30 children a year died from Hib meningitis and 80 were left with serious long term health problems.

Reports of Hib disease in England and Wales (1990–2005)Reports of Hib disease in England and Wales (1990–2005)

Graph produced by Public Health England

Vaccination

All children in the UK should be vaccinated against Hib as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule. It is first offered as part of the 5-in-1 vaccine (also known as the DTaP/IPV/Hib) that is given to babies at two, three and four months old. The 5-in-1 vaccine also protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), and polio. A booster against Hib and Meningitis C is given at 12 months.

The Hib vaccine has proven very safe, but making a really effective vaccine is a difficult task. Hib vaccines have been developed since the 1970s, but early efforts were largely ineffective for children under 18 months of age, the group most at risk. The current vaccine, which is effective for even very young children, was introduced in 1992 in the UK and caused a dramatic reduction in Hib cases.

The number of cases grew slowly over the next few years, partly due to a decrease in uptake after the initial introduction. A catch-up program started in 2003 which helped to bring levels down again.

It was also discovered that immunity developed from the vaccine waned over time, leading to the introduction of the Hib/MenC booster in 2006. Invasive Hib cases reached a record low in 2009 and there have been no UK deaths associated with Hib since 2007.

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