Hib meningitis is an infectious disease that is life-threatening. The disease is characterized by inflammation of the surrounding layers of the spinal cord and the brain. The meninges are layers that assist in protecting the brain from infection and injury. Children who are below 4 years old are the most affected population. In the United States, it usually affects adults, such as parents and grandparents, who spend a significant time with children.
How can you contract Hib meningitis?
Found only in human beings, Hib bacteria live in the throat and nose. If the bacteria spread to other parts of the body, it can become deadly.
An individual with Hib meningitis can spread the disease to others by expelling infected droplets coming from their throat or mucus. Therefore, when someone coughs or sneezes, he or she can expose others to the infection. Hib bacteria cannot survive long outside the body of a human being because they are very fragile. It is difficult to identify a person with Hib bacteria since many of these people do not fall sick. Hib bacteria were very common in small children before the introduction of the Hib vaccine.
The incubation period of Hib bacteria is unknown, but it is believed that it could just take a few days for the symptoms to show after a person has contracted the bacteria.
How can you identify Hib meningitis?
Hib bacteria can cause a number of serious illnesses, but the most common is meningitis. The symptoms of Hib meningitis are similar to other types of bacterial meningitis.
- In the initial stages, one can suffer from fever, vomiting, and headache just like any other mild sickness.
- Stiff neck and sensitivity to bright light are common symptoms of meningitis.
- As the disease worsens, the one affected becomes very sleepy, and it is hard to wake them up.
- A person with Hib meningitis will become delirious or confused and will likely have seizures.
- Children refuse to eat and become irritable with a moaning cry when picked up.
- The skin might turn blue in color or blotchy.
- In babies with the disease, there may be bulging or tense soft spot on the head.
A rash, which is common in a meningococcal infection, does not usually occur in people suffering from Hib meningitis. Being the most common cause of meningitis, a meningococcal infection normally occurs together with blood poisoning (septicemia).
How is Hib meningitis caused?
Your body’s defenses can be defeated when the Hib bacteria attack and lead to an infection. The bacteria can go into the bloodstream and cause septicemia or can infect the meninges, resulting in meningitis. The blood vessels in the brain's lining are damaged when the bacteria infect the meninges. This damage enables the bacteria to enter and infect the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid). The meninges get inflamed and nerve damage can result from the pressure in the brain. The bacteria start to release poisons resulting in septicemia, as they rapidly multiply in the bloodstream.
The blood vessels are damaged by the toxins in the blood and the flow of oxygen to the organs like the skin is stopped resulting in widespread damage to your body.
Effects of Hib Bacteria
Although Hib meningitis can be fatal, at least 95 percent of those suffering from it can recover in today’s modern world. One in every eight survivors of Hib meningitis may suffer from long-term neurological complications, such as epilepsy, brain damage, coordination difficulties, and deafness. According to studies, 45 percent of survivors have neurological complications.
Other severe diseases caused by Hib bacteria include:
- Cellulitis (infection of the skin)
- Epiglottitis (inflammation of the epiglottis)
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
- Septicemia (blood infection or blood poisoning)
- Pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining)
- Arthritis (inflammation of the joints)
Mild illnesses such as ear infections and respiratory infections can also be caused by the Hib bacteria.
Only a minority of people who contract Hib bacteria fall sick, and it is not clearly known why. People whose immune systems are impaired have a higher chance of getting the disease. Members of a family in which a case of Hib meningitis has been reported have a higher risk of contracting the disease. However, it also depends on their ages and whether they have received Hib vaccinations.
People with Hib meningitis should be quickly admitted to the hospital and treated with antibiotics. Hib meningitis can be cured if there is quick treatment.
Hib vaccines are administered through the intramuscular route. Infants, which include preterm ones, must receive a series of the vaccine when they reach 2 months old. The Hib vaccine should not be given to babies who are younger than 6 weeks old to avoid the risk of immunologic tolerance to the succeeding doses of the vaccine. The number of doses usually depends on the Hib vaccine brand used.
Is the Hib vaccine safe?
The Hib vaccine is very safe. The vaccine is inactivated, which means that it does not have any organisms that are alive, so there are no chances of the baby getting infected with the disease. However, there are very few side effects that come with the vaccine.
Is it effective?
The booster for Hib vaccine is very effective and protects babies at the time they are most susceptible to such disease.
How long is a patient with Hib meningitis infectious?
It usually varies. A patient will be likely infectious for as long as the bacteria are in the throat and nose, even if the symptoms clear.
The body may be able to kill the bacteria on its own, but this will take longer than it will take for medication to kill the bacteria. After using antibiotics for one or two days, the bacteria should be decreased to the point where the patient can no longer spread the disease.
The antibiotic called rifampin can be prescribed to fight the Hib bacteria before it becomes a serious disease. So, if you have been in contact with someone infected with Hib, visit a doctor immediately.
Complications Associated with Hib Meningitis
Severe Hib infections such as epiglottitis and meningitis can be life-threatening. Certain individuals who recover from Hib meningitis suffer from permanent neurologic complications such as brain damage and deafness.
It is recommended that all babies receive the approved Hib vaccine program from the age of two months. Consult your doctor about the right time for your baby to receive the vaccine.