Haemophilus influenzae

Most commonly haemophilus influenza type b or Hib disease

Key points about haemophilus influenzae

  • There are 6 types of haemophilus influenzae bacteria (Hia through to Hif). They cause illnesses affecting your breathing, joints, bones and nervous system. Some of these illnesses can cause lifelong disability or death.
  • The most common type is haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib disease).
  • The bacteria is easily spread through direct contact or by sneezing and coughing.
  • Haemophilus influenzae causes infections ranging from mild ear infections to serious bloodstream infections or meningitis, but not influenza (the flu). 
  • Vaccination is the best protection.
  • If your baby is sick with sudden fever, shaking/chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, stiff neck, disorientation and/or sensitivity to light, act immediately. Urgent hospital care is usually needed as babies can get very sick very quickly.


Mother checks temperature & puts hand on sick boy's forehead
Print this page

Haemophilus influenzae bacteria live in the nose and throat of most healthy people without causing illness. The bacteria are easily passed from person to person by coughing, sneezing and close contact. Not everyone who catches or carries the bacteria gets sick. If the bacteria get into other parts of your body, it can cause infection.

The infections can range from minor infections to serious diseases. They include:

  • ear infections
  • pneumonia (infection of your lung)
  • meningitis (infection of the covering of your spinal cord and brain)
  • epiglottitis (windpipe inflammation which can lead to trouble breathing)
  • osteomyelitis (infections of your bones and joints)
  • bacteraemia (blood infection)
  • cellulitis (skin infection).

The time between exposure and feeling symptoms (the incubation period) of haemophilus influenzae disease is uncertain, but may be as little as just a few days.

Vieo: Hademophilus influenzae type b

Click the image below to visit the website, scroll down to see the video, then click play.
(external link)

Haemophilus influenzae bacteria are common, but not everyone who has them will get sick. Those most at risk of serious disease are children under 5 years and people who have a weakened immune system. Being in childcare, having school-aged brothers and sisters, and living with lots of other people can also increase the risk of getting Hib disease.

The symptoms of Hib disease are not the same for everyone. The symptoms vary, depending on where the infection is. A baby or young child may only have fever and be irritable. Find out about the symptoms of the following conditions that can be caused by Hib:

Meningitis and epiglottitis can develop quickly and can rapidly cause death if left untreated. You need to see a doctor immediately for treatment.

  • About 1 in 20 people with meningitis die and 1 in 3 survivors has permanent brain or nerve damage.
  • About 1 in 100 people with epiglottitis die.

Your doctor will diagnose and treat Hib disease based on your symptoms and test results. Read about the diagnosis and treatment of conditions caused by Hib disease:

Vaccination of babies and those at increased risk due to underlying medical conditions can greatly help to prevent Hib disease and bacterial spread.

All babies in New Zealand should be vaccinated against Hib disease as part of their free childhood vaccinations at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months and 15 months old.

It is very difficult to avoid coming into contact with the bacteria that cause this illness, so as well as being vaccinated you can reduce your chances of becoming infected or infecting others by:

  • regularly washing your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel
  • covering your nose and mouth with your arm or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

If you are living with an infected person you may be offered antibiotics to prevent you from catching the disease.

Babies and young children are at particular risk of infection because their immune systems are not fully developed. However, they can be protected by being vaccinated against Hib disease. Hib disease has been almost eliminated in countries where Hib vaccine is used.

Read about the Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine.

Vaccination against Hib disease is free as part of the National Immunisation Schedule in New Zealand for babies at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months and 15 months of age.

  • If your baby misses these dates, they can have catch-up vaccinations. Talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
  • The vaccine is given by injection into the arm or leg.
  • Children and adults with medical conditions that increase their risk of Hib disease are eligible for free vaccination against Hib.

Haemophilus influenzae type b disease(external link) The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ, 2017
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
Prevention – making a decision about vaccination(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib) vaccine – what you need to know(external link) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, 2015 Available in the following languages: English(external link)Samoan(external link) 


  1. Childhood immunisation(external link) HealthEd, NZ
  2. Haemophilus influenzae type b disease(external link) Immunisation Handbook 2020, NZ

Need help now?

Healthline logo in supporters block

Need to talk logo

Healthpoint logo

Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Mark Taylor, GP Liaison Integrated Care, Waikato DHB

Last reviewed:

Page last updated: