Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, haemophilus influenza type B vaccines

Diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and Hib – these diseases can kill or disable large numbers of children. The vaccine for these 5 diseases are very effective and are usually combined in one needle. The vaccines are usually given in a series during infancy and childhood.

If we do not keep our children protected with vaccines, the risk of these diseases will increase again.


Diphtheria is caused by bacteria infecting the nose and throat so children may have trouble breathing or they may have skin or ear infections. The bacteria also produces a poison that can cause paralysis or heart damage.

  • Before routine immunization against diphtheria, it was one of the most common causes of death in children under 5 years of age, especially babies.


Pertussis (whooping cough) caused by bacteria infecting the lining of the airways. It is spread through direct contact with mucous or respiratory droplets of an infected person. It causes coughing spells so severe that a child has a hard time breathing or eating. The coughing can last for weeks or months.

Children with serious complications may require a long hospitalization. Complications of whooping cough are more severe in babies. Pneumonia, convulsions, brain injury and death may occur. Adolescents with pertussis can suffer from a severe cough followed by vomiting, for as long as two months. Adolescents and adults often pass the disease to children and babies.


Tetanus (lockjaw) can happen when tetanus bacteria found in the soil get into wounds. The bacteria make a poison, which is absorbed by the body’s muscles and causes severe spasms. Even with modern medicine, about 10–20% of people who get tetanus die.


Poliomyelitis (polio) is caused by a virus. One person in 100 infected with the polio virus is paralyzed and the paralysis may be permanent and crippling. Before the development of a vaccine, thousands of cases of paralysis and hundreds of deaths from polio occurred each year in Canada.

Since polio vaccine became available in the mid-1950’s, polio disease has been virtually eliminated in North and South America and is under control in several other parts of the world. However, polio still exists in some countries and could return to Canada through the travels of people who have not been immunized.

Until polio is eliminated on a worldwide basis, the risk to Canadians who are not immunized is high.


Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) bacteria causes meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain). Hib can cause other severe infections in young children, including pneumonia, epiglottitis (swelling of the opening to the windpipe), infections in the blood, joints, bones, body tissues, or in the outer covering of the heart.

Before the Hib vaccine was used in Canada, about one in every 300 children would get some form of serious Hib disease before they turned five. Hib also caused at least 1,000 cases of meningitis each year. One in every 20 children under the age of five with Hib infection died and 1 out of every 4 with meningitis had permanent brain injury or deafness.

The number of cases of Hib disease dropped sharply since a vaccine for infants was introduced in 1988. However, Hib disease is still present and children who are unvaccinated are at risk.

Hib vaccine helps protect your child from serious infections from Hib bacteria. Hib vaccine does not protect against ear infections caused by Hib bacteria or meningitis caused by other kinds of bacteria or viruses. Although “influenza” is part of the Hib name, Hib does not cause “the flu” and the Hib vaccine does not protect against flu.

Specific vaccine information


If you have questions or concerns, contact your local public health office or Health Link Alberta