It’s Hib to be Square

With Rosalyn’s six-month check-up coming, and my thesis defense behind me (that’s right- it’s Dr. Science Momma now!), I want to explore a bit about the vaccines she has gotten or will be getting.  I already mentioned the flu vaccine, and why it’s so important, especially for a young baby.  Today, I want to talk about a less-well-known vaccine- Haemophilus influenzae, or Hib.

Haemophilus influenzae is a bacterium that normally infects children under 5 years old.  It had been a big cause of meningitis, until the vaccine was developed.  Incidence of Haemophilus influenzae infections have decreased 30-75-fold since the introduction of the Hib vaccine.

Meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain, is a scary word to me.  While viral meningitis can go away on its own in a few weeks, bacterial meningitis is very dangerous.  It can cause severe damage, including blindness, deafness, and even death.

We don’t hear many stories of Haemophilus influenzae infections, and we should be grateful for that.  Haemophilus influenzae infections can be very serious, as indicated by the following two stories.

In early 2009, 5 children were infected with Haemophilus influenzae.  Three of the five were not vaccinated, and one died.  Also around this time, 7 cases of Haemophilus influenzae were reported in Pennsylvania.  Three of the seven died; only one was vaccinated.  There were also cases reported in Oklahoma and New Jersey.

You might notice that some of the children had received the Hib vaccine, and wonder why they got sick too.  Clearly, the vaccine doesn’t work if vaccinated children are getting sick, right?  Not quite.  In Minnesota, one infant had not completed the series yet and was still developing its immune response.  The other vaccinated child was found to have an immune deficiency.  Children like this are the reason herd immunity is so important.  If 99% of the population is vaccinated and protected, they’re not likely to spread the disease to the remained 1% who aren’t protected for whatever reason.  Not only did those parents who declined to have their children vaccinated have to watch their children suffer needlessly, they may have indirectly exposed non-immune patients.

No parent wants to hurt his or her child.  With all the negative rumors circulating regarding vaccines, it’s common for parents to have concern about the effects of vaccination.  We have to be reminded of all the good vaccines actually do.  Years of scientific studies have shown we can save lives, one shot at a time.

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