What is the global incidence of epiglottitis?

Updated: Apr 28, 2020
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Epiglottitis is classically associated with Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infection and children. However, as has been observed with other infections caused by this agent, the overall incidence of epiglottitis has dramatically dropped in young children globally, as well as older age groups and adults, upon general adoption of Hib vaccine; furthermore, the most typical patient affected by epiglottitis in industrialized areas with vaccination programs is now an urban male in his mid 40s. Groups with higher morbidity include infants younger than 1 year and adults older than 85 years. [10, 11]

In United States, epiglottitis is an uncommon disease with an incidence in adults of about 1 case per 100,000 per year. Adult epiglottitis is most frequently a disease of men (male-to-female ratio, approximately 3:1), occurring during the fifth decade of life (average age, about 45 y). The ratio of incidence in children to adults was 2.6:1 in 1980 and dropped to 0.4:1 in 1993, a dramatic decrease in occurrence since the introduction of the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib). However, keep in mind that vaccine failures are possible.

Globally, epiglottitis is generally more common in nations that do not immunize against H influenzae type b. For example, in Sweden from 1987 to 1989, the incidence was 14.7 per 100,000 people per year in children aged 0-4 years and 3.2 per 100,000 people per year overall. [12] A large-scale Hib vaccination program in 1992-1993 resulted in a substantial decrease in Swedish cases of acute epiglottitis.

A retrospective review of a Danish population demonstrated a mean national incidence of epiglottitis in children of 4.9 cases per 100,000 per year in the decade before Hib vaccination. From 1996 to 2005, with the introduction of widespread Hib vaccination, an incidence of only 0.02 cases of epiglottitis per 100,000 per year was seen. During this period, the incidence of acute epiglottitis in adults remained constant, at 1.9 cases per 100,000 per year. [13]

A retrospective review from the tropical country of Singapore over 8 years, ending in 1999, demonstrated 32 cases of acute epiglottitis, only 1 of which occurred in a child. [14] During this time, Hib immunization was not routine, so Hib immunization cannot be used to explain the increased adult epiglottitis prevalence found in this study.

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