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Haemophilus Influenzae Infections

What is Haemophilus influenzae?

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 abolished in the US due to effective vaccine development, 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). In rare cases, children may still develop H. influenzae type b infections. This can occur if the child has not completed their series of immunizations or in older children who did not receive the vaccine as an infant.

How is H. influenzae transmitted?

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 can be inhaled and may also cause infection.

What are the symptoms of H. influenzae?

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 physician for a diagnosis.

How is H. influenzae diagnosed?

Your child's physician 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 physician 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 infections:

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 physician 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).

Prevention of H. influenzae:

Immunization against type b, which is the most invasive strain of H. influenzae, is routinely administered in a three- or four-part series. The first vaccine is received at 2 months of age and the two subsequent doses are given at about 4 months and 6 months. 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 them to be immunized. Other populations that should be encouraged to receive the vaccine include the following:

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