Hib disease (Haemophilus influenzae type b)

Expand All

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacterium which can cause a range of very serious diseases, particularly in children under the age of 5. There are very few cases of Hib disease in older children and adults. 60% of cases of Hib disease result in meningitis, often with septicaemia (severe blood poisoning). 15% of cases result in epiglottitis (inflammation of the epiglottis).

Even with medical treatment, about 1 in 20 children who develop Hib meningitis die. Before a vaccine was introduced, it is estimated that there were up to 1500 cases of Hib disease every year in the UK, leading to about 900 cases of meningitis and 60 deaths each year. 1 in 5 of the babies and children who survived Hib meningitis were left with severe long-term effects such as learning disabilities, seizures (fits) or deafness.

Before a vaccine was available, Hib disease was the main cause of meningitis in young children in the UK. It is now very rare in the UK, but worldwide it is still a major cause of death in children under 5. The World Health Organization estimates that Hib causes millions of cases of serious disease every year. About 200,000 young children died from Hib disease in 2008.

Hib disease – Matthew’s story

Three-year-old Matthew was hospitalised with Hib disease which almost killed him. He had not been vaccinated. Grateful thanks to PKIDs (Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases) and Shot by Shot for permission to use this film.

Hib: A Family's Story (full video)


Click here for an accessible text transcript of this video



Hib disease usually causes meningitis, septicaemia or epiglottitis.


  • is the inflammation of the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord.
  • is very difficult to spot in the early stages.
  • Early symptoms are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell, just like in many mild illnesses (but in babies under 3 months old there may be no sign of fever).
  • Other symptoms include high-pitched screaming in babies, being difficult to wake, and tense or bulging soft spot on head.
  • The disease progresses very quickly, and can kill in a matter of hours.


  • is inflammation of the epiglottis, the flap of cartilage which covers the windpipe.
  • can cause serious breathing difficulties, which may become life-threatening if not quickly treated.


  • is a serious form of blood poisoning
  • produces a rash in most cases, which is typically non-blanching (but not always, especially in the early stages)
  • may cause joint and limb pain
  • causes shock
  • can lead to skin scarring or limb amputations

See the Meningitis Research Foundation website for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia.

Hib disease can also cause:

  • severe pneumonia
  • septic arthritis (infection of the joints)
  • osteomyelitis (infection of the bones)
  • cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying tissues)
  • pericarditis (infection of the lining around the heart)


Hib is spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with someone who is infected or carrying the disease without knowing it. People (especially children under 4 years of age) can carry Hib bacteria in their nose and throat harmlessly, without showing signs of the disease. Before the Hib vaccine was introduced, about 4 in every 100 pre-school children carried the Hib bacteria in their throat. Since the vaccine was introduced in 1992, carriage rates have fallen below the level of detection in young children.


Babies in the UK are protected by the 5-in-1 vaccine (for babies born or or before 31st July 2017) or the 6-in-1 vaccine (for babies born on or after 1st August 2017). A booster dose is given in the Hib/MenC vaccine.

The Hib/MenC vaccine is also recommended for people with some long-term health conditions who are at greater risk of complications from Hib disease. See the vaccine page for more information.


Before the introduction of the vaccine in 1992, around one in every 600 children developed some form of invasive Hib disease before their fifth birthday. Read how two sisters developed Hib meningitis independently , and how one lost both her legs to the disease.

In 1991, the year before the vaccine was introduced, there were 759 reported cases of invasive Hib in children under five in England. In 2014, there were only 2 confirmed cases in this age group.

hib disease 1990 2014

Click here for an accessible text version of this graph

Source: Public Health England and the Health Protection Agency Archive  


Page last updated Thursday, April 28, 2022