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Meningitis - H. influenzae

Definition

Haemophilus influenzae meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

See also:

Alternative Names

H. influenzae meningitis; H. flu meningitis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

H. influenzae meningitis is caused by Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. This is not the same as the flu (influenza), which is caused by the virus.

Before the Hib vaccine, H. influenzae was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age 5. Since the vaccine became available in the U.S.,  this type of meningitis occurs in less than 2 in 100,000 children.

H. influenzae meningitis may occur after an upper respiratory infection. The infection usually spreads from your lungs and airways to your blood, then the brain area.

Risk factors include:

  • Attending daycare
  • Cancer
  • Ear infection (otitis media)
  • Family member with an H. influenzae infection
  • Native American race
  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Sinus infection (sinusitis)
  • Sore throat (pharyngitis)
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms

Symptoms usually come on quickly, and may include:

Other symptoms that can occur include:

  • Agitation
  • Bulging fontanelles in infants
  • Decreased consciousness
  • Poor feeding and irritability in children
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will examine you. This will usually show:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Mental status changes
  • Stiff neck

If the doctor thinks menigitis is possible, a lumbar puncture ("spinal tap") is done to take a sample of spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) for testing.

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Antibiotics should be given as soon as possible. Ceftriaxone is one of the most commonly used antibiotics. Ampicillin may sometimes be used.

Corticosteroids may be used to fight inflammation, especially in children.

Unvaccinated people who are in close contact with someone who has H. influenzae meningitis should be given antibiotics to prevent infection. Such people include:

  • Household members
  • Roommates in dormitories
  • Those who come into close contact with an infected person

Expectations (prognosis)

This is a dangerous infection and can be deadly.  The faster you are treated, the better your chance for recovery.  Young children and adults over 50 have the highest risk of death.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Call the local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you suspect meningitis in a young child who has the following symptoms:

  • Feeding problems
  • High-pitched cry
  • Irritability
  • Persistent, unexplained fever

Call the local emergency number if you develop any of the serious symptoms listed above. Meningitis can quickly become a life-threatening illness.

Prevention

To protect infants and young children:

  • Hib immunizations for infants and children are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
  • Several types of Hib vaccine are available for children ages 2 months and older.

All unvaccinated family members and close contacts (especially in health care or school settings) of people with this type of meningitis should begin antibiotic treatment as soon as possible to prevent spread of the infection. Ask your health care provider about this during the first visit.

Close contacts in the same household, school, or day care center should be watched for early signs of the disease as soon as the first case is diagnosed. If two cases occur in a day care center, preventive antibiotics should be considered. Always use good hygiene habits, such as washing hands before and after changing a diaper, and after using the bathroom.

References

Swartz MN. Meningitis: bacterial, viral, and other. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 437.

Thigpen MC, Whitney CG, Messonnier NE, et al. Emerging Infections Programs Network. Bacterial meningitis
in the United States, 1998-2007. N Engl J Med. 2011 May 26;364(21):2016-25.

Prober CG, Dyner L. Central nervous system infections. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 595.


Review Date: 8/15/2012
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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