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What is Haemiphilus influenzae type a (Hia)?

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Haemophilius Influenzae type a (called Hia for short) is a kind of bacteria that can cause mild to severe disease, especially in young children under 5 years old. It can lead to long-term problems or disabilities. 

How severe the disease Hia causes depends on multiple factors, including

  • the person’s age
  • immune system
  • how healthy the person is already

Even if the name includes the word “influenza”, these bacteria do NOT cause the seasonal flu (influenza virus). 

Who does it affect?

Hia usually causes severe disease in babies, children under 5 years old, and older people – but it can affect anyone. 

It is more common among people in Indigenous communities than in the general population of North America. We are not sure why, but social factors like overcrowded housing may play a role.  

Where does it come from?

  • Hia bacteria can live quietly in any person’s body (in their nose and throat).  People can carry the bacteria but without getting sick, and not realize they are spreading the bacteria to others. 
     
  • In some cases, the bacteria move to other parts of the body (like the blood) and can cause sickness. 

How is it transmitted?

  • Hia can spread through respiratory droplets when a person who is carrying the bacteria coughs or sneezes. It can also spread through direct contact (for example, kissing someone or sharing utensils or toothbrushes). 
     
  • People who are not sick, but have the bacteria in their noses and throats, can still spread the bacteria. 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms will depend on the part of the body that is infected (for example, bacteria infecting the fluid around the brain and spinal cord causes meningitis). 

In the beginning, the symptoms of Hia can be similar to many other, more common illnesses. If your child looks unwell (not playing, not eating, very sleepy, or cannot be comforted), call the nurse on call or go to the local clinic.  

Some infections caused by Hia can be life-threatening, like meningitis or bloodstream infections.  Others can be serious but less life-threatening, like joint infections (or infectious arthritis), or milder, like ear infections in children.  

Symptoms of a lung infection (pneumonia) caused by Hia: 

  • Fever and chills 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing 
  • Sweating 
  • Chest pain 
  • Extreme tiredness 

Symptoms of a bloodstream infection caused by Hia: 

  • Fever and chills 
  • Extreme tiredness 
  • Nausea (with or without vomiting) 
  • Feeling restless  
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing 
  • Confusion 
  • Can occur with or without pneumonia 

Symptoms of Meningitis caused by Hia: 

  • High fever 
  • Severe headache 
  • Stiff neck (hard to move neck) 
  • Nausea (with or without vomiting) 
  • Eyes are more sensitive to light 
  • Confusion, becoming less alert or more sleepy 

How can we prevent it?

  • If you have been told by Public Health or the CMC that you have been in close contact with someone who has invasive Haemophilius Influenzae type a or b disease, please make sure to follow their recommendations
     
  • You will be given preventive antibiotics that will reduce your chances of also getting the disease and passing it on to others
     
  • The preventive antibiotics should begin as soon as possible after you have been in contact with an infected person
     
  • It is very important to take the preventive antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor

Did you know?

In early the 2000s, an effective vaccine became available for a related disease (Hib) and is now part of Canada’s childhood vaccination program.  Now, it rarely occurs in Canada and the last case seen in Eeyou Istchee was in 2006. 

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