Hib infection drops dramatically in U.K.

The number of children contracting the deadly Haemophilus influenza type B, also known as a Hib infection, has dropped 97 percent in the United Kingdom in the 20 years since an immunization program was introduced.

Twenty years ago, there were approximately 900 annual reported Hib infections in children in Wales and England. The average number of cases now is only 30 per year, MSN reports.

The Hib vaccine is given to children at two, three and four months old with a booster shot offered at 12 months. Hib infections can cause pneumonia and meningitis septicaemia in children.

"Hib was the hidden killer, affecting thousands of families every year," Baroness Bottomley, the health secretary when the immunization program was introduced, said, according to MSN. "As soon as we were confident that the vaccine was safe and effective, it became vital that a universal immunization program was introduced quickly, to protect as many infants and young people as possible. I am delighted that 20 years later the immunization program has been such an evident success."

Shamez Ladhani, a pediatric disease consultant at St. George's University in London, said that while the disease is better controlled, surveillance must continue to prevent a resurgence of the disease.

"While Hib control is currently the best it has been since the vaccine was introduced, there have been times in the past 20 years when the incidence of Hib disease increased and required introduction of a number of control measures - such as Hib vaccination booster programs - to bring disease rates down to the current low levels," Ladhani said, according to MSN. "The increase in Hib during this period highlights the need for surveillance across all age groups for many years after apparent disease control."

There are approximately 386,000 cases of Hib-related deaths around the world each year, mainly in developing countries.