Epidemiology and Infection

Invasive Haemophilus influenzae disease in adults

a1 Public Health Laboratory, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Great Western Road, Gloucester, GL1 3NN, UK
a2 PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (South & West), Public Health Laboratory, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Great Western Road, Gloucester, GL1 3NN, UK
a3 Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR
a4 Haemophilus Reference Unit, Public Health Laboratory, Level 6/7, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, Oxford, OX3 9DU, UK


We reviewed retrospectively all invasive Haemophilus influenzae (Hi) infections in adults ascertained from reference laboratory records and notifications from five NHS regions over the 5 years from 1 October 1990, a period encompassing the introduction of routine Hib childhood immunization (October 1992). A total of 446 cases were identified, a rate of 0·73 infections per 105 adults per annum. Though numbers of Hib infections in adults fell after the introduction of Hib vaccines for children (P = 0·035), and there was no increase in infections caused by other capsulated Hi serotypes, total numbers of invasive Hi infections increased due to a large rise in infections caused by non-capsulated Hi (ncHi) strains (P = 0·0067). There was an unexpectedly low rate of infections in those aged 75 years or more (P < 0·0001). The commonest clinical presentations were pneumonia with bacteraemia (227/350, 65%) and bacteraemia alone (62/350, 18%) and the highest rates of disease were in the 65–74 years age group (P < 0·0001). Clinical presentation was not influenced by the capsulation status of the invading Hi strain. 103/350 cases (29%) died within 1 month, and 207/350 (59%) within 6 months of their Hi infection. Case fatality rates were high in all age groups. Pre-existing diseases were noted in 220/350 cases and were associated with a higher case fatality rate (82% vs. 21%, P < 0·0001). After the introduction of Hib immunization in children, invasive Hib infections in unimmunized adults also declined, but the overall rate of invasive Hi disease in adults increased, with most infections now caused by non-capsulated strains. Physicians and microbiologists should be aware of the changing epidemiology, the high associated mortality and high risk of underlying disease. Invasive haemophilus infections in adults should be investigated and treated aggressively.

(Accepted October 27 1999)

c1 Current address and author for correspondence: Department of Public Health Medicine, Avon Health Authority, King Square House, King Square, Bristol BS2 8EE.