A one-year-old boy in Toronto has had part of both legs amputated in an attempt to save his life from a blood infection triggered by Hemophilus influenzae Type B.
Ethan Faria is being cared for at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. His family said that the child's illness was first thought to be pneumonia.
On a crowdsourcing website, friends of the boy's family described his situation as they attempted to raise $50,000 to help the family with expenses.
Ethan is suffering from a severe infection with Hemophilus influenzae Type B, which is commonly known as Hib. It is a bacterium and is not related to influenza, a virus.
Hib was once the cause of about 900 severe illnesses a year in Canada. The cases have become rare since the vaccination to protect against Hib began in the mid 1980s.
Currently children are protected against Hib in combination vaccinations that also cover diseases such as polio, pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus.
Ethan was up to date on his vaccinations - he received three shots containing Hib vaccine at two, four and six months. But a fourth dose that is required to get optimum protection is given at 18 months in Ontario. The boy is too young to have received that last shot.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, medical director for immunization and vaccine-preventable diseases at Public Health Ontario, said, "The Hib vaccine is considered 95 percent effective when a child has received all four doses. Without the last booster, protection rates would be expected to be somewhat lower."
The little boy's case is clearly tragic. But in general, parents do not need to worry about Hib if their children are fully vaccinated, said Deeks.
Nowadays, Ontario witnesses between one to10 severe Hib infections a year. "Hemophilus influenzae Type B is a very rare condition in Canada. We don't tend to see clusters so the message that parents should know is that they just need to make sure their children are immunized to protect them against the disease," added Deeks.
Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases expert at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, said, "Hib infection can cause milder illnesses including inner ear infections and sinusitis."
When it develops into severe disease, it can trigger pneumonia, bacteremia (a bloodstream infection), meningitis (an infection of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord) and epiglottitis (an infection of the epiglottis, the valve that closes the windpipe when a person swallows food or liquid).
Depending on the severity of illness, serious and permanent side-effects can occur. For instance, meningitis can lead to brain damage or hearing loss and a bloodstream infection can trigger the need to amputate limbs.
Adults at the age of 65 and above are also at higher risk than the rest of the population. But most severe cases occur in children under five years of age.
"Hib is not highly contagious. The bacterium spreads by coughing and sneezing, kissing and sharing drinks" said McGeer.