To study colonization and transmission of Haemophilus influenzae in a cohort of children <2 years old living in the unique epidemiologic conditions of a closed community of an orphanage.
Methods. Fifty-three children, ages 0 to 24 months, were followed for 1 year. All children >2 months were vaccinated against H. influenzae serotype b. Nasopharyngeal cultures were collected monthly or, in children <6 months of age, every 2 weeks. Antibiotic susceptibility, serotype, biotype and genotype (pulsed field gel electrophoresis) of each isolate were determined. As control, 39 H. influenzae isolates were recovered from various regions in France.
Results. The mean monthly rate of carriage was 45% ranging from 17 to 70%. Most isolates belonged to biotype II (62%), 4 isolates to serotype f (3.6%) and none to serotype b, and 60% of the 111 isolates produced beta-lactamase. A complete concordance was found among biotype, serotype, pulsotype and antimicrobial susceptibility. On average children were sequentially colonized by 3 different isolates. The mean duration of carriage for a given isolate was ∼1.4 months. In younger children the mean age of primary colonization was 2 months. Contrasting with the high genetic heterogeneity of 39 control isolates, most isolates (82%) belonged to only 5 pulsotypes. Three main H. influenzae clones rapidly spread in the community and colonized children in waves.
Conclusion. During early life nasopharyngeal colonization by H. influenzae is a dynamic phenomenon with sequential carriage of various clones spreading in the community.