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When the Hib bacteria invade, they can overcome the body’s defences and lead to infection. The bacteria can travel in the bloodstream to infect the meninges, causing meningitis, or whilst in the bloodstream they can cause septicaemia.
When the bacteria infect the meninges, the blood vessels in the lining of the brain are damaged. This allows the bacteria to break through and infect the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and the meninges become inflamed and pressure around the brain can cause nerve damage. Pressure on the brain can produce the specific symptoms associated with meningitis.
As the bacteria multiply rapidly in the bloodstream, they begin to release poisons from their outer coating. The body’s natural defences have little effect on these poisons and eventually blood vessels become damaged. This results in the more specific symptoms of septicaemia.
Hib bacteria can also cause other infections such as epiglotittis (rapid swelling of the epiglottis), septic arthritis, osteomyelitis, pericarditis, cellulitis, bronchitis and otitis media.
Hib meningitis requires rapid admission to hospital and treatment with antibiotics. For more information, visit our section on treatment of meningitis.
A routine Hib vaccine was introduced to the UK in 1992 and forms part of the Childhood Vaccine Programme. The vaccine has been hugely successful. Before 1992 there were around 900 cases of Hib meningitis in the UK, with the majority of cases occurring in the under 4s. This number has been reduced by 98% preventing thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths. The Hib bacteria are now carried by less than 1% of the population.
Speak to experienced staff on our Freephone helpline, available 24-hours a day: 0808 80 10 388, or you can e-mail us at email@example.com
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