Meningitis B is a rare type of bacterial meningitis. It causes swelling in the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria that cause meningitis B can also cause septicemia, a bloodstream infection also known as blood poisoning.
When not treated swiftly, meningitis B can cause serious complications, including deafness, the need for amputation, and death. Some people experience severe side effects or death even when treated.
Read on to learn all about meningitis B, including symptoms to look for and how to prevent getting it.
Meningitis B is also referred to simply as meningitis. This condition is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis (N. meningitidis) bacterium. N. meningitidis contains many subtypes, known as serogroups. The serogroup most likely to cause meningitis is serogroup B.
Meningitis can be caused by over 50 bacterial strains. It can also be caused by:
- viral infections
- fungal infections
- parasitic infections (although this is rare)
Viruses and bacteria are the most common causes of meningitis. Viral meningitis is milder than meningitis B and typically resolves on its own.
Once contracted, the bacteria that causes meningitis B may attack the fluid and membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, causing swelling to occur. It may also cause septicemia.
While uncommon, meningitis B can become deadly within 24 hours.
The symptoms of meningitis B come on quickly, usually within a week after exposure. In some instances, these symptoms may mimic those caused by the flu.
Because meningitis B progresses swiftly, seek medical immediate attention if you have the following symptoms:
- sudden high fever
- stiff neck
- severe headache
You should also schedule a doctor’s appointment if you know you’ve been in contact with someone who has meningitis B.
In children, teens, and adults, meningitis B symptoms can include:
- stiff neck
- headache, which can be severe
- trouble looking at bright light
- cold hands and feet
- lack of appetite
- aching, sore muscles
- painful, swollen joints
- exhaustion or malaise
- red or purple rash
- incoherent speech
In babies and toddlers, these additional symptoms may occur:
- swelling in the fontanelle
- severe fussiness (irritability)
- refusing to eat
Seek immediate medical care if your baby or child has any of the above symptoms.
N. meningitidis isn’t transmitted through casual, brief contact or from infected surfaces.
It’s most commonly spread through infected secretions from the back of the throat. Close contact with a person who has the infection puts you at risk, as well as living in close proximity to someone who has it.
Engaging in the following activities with someone who has meningitis B can put you at risk for infection:
- coughing or sneezing
- having a prolonged conversation
- sharing utensils or cups
- sharing e-cigarettes and vapes
- sharing lipstick, nose rings, or other items that touch the mouth or nose
People of any age can get meningitis B. Over half of all cases occur in teenagers and young adults.
If live in a dormitory, military base, or crowded household, you may be at greater risk than others. Immunocompromised people are also more vulnerable to this disease.
Proactive behaviors may help you avoid developing meningitis B. They include:
- frequent handwashing
- avoiding smoking
- not sharing utensils, water bottles, or items that touch your mouth
Meningitis B vaccine
The best way to eliminate your risk of contracting N. meningitidis is by getting vaccinated. Your doctor may recommend that your child get two types of vaccines:
MenACWY (MCV4) vaccine
The meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against bacterial serogroups A, C, W, and Y. This vaccine is recommended for children who are 11 or 12. A booster shot is often recommended at around age 16.
If your child has a medical condition that increases risk, they should receive a booster every 5 years. All children require a booster if a meningitis outbreak occurs more than 5 years after their last shot.
Like all vaccinations, the vaccinations for meningitis B may have some side effects.
Possible MenACWY vaccine side effects include:
- redness and pain at the injection site
- mild fever
People ages 16 to 23 may also be recommended to get the MenB vaccine, which protects against bacterial serogroup B. It’s approved for anyone over age 10. This vaccine is typically given in two doses to teens aged 16 to 18.
Having certain medical conditions such as sickle cell disease or living in an area with a meningitis B outbreak increases risk. When these conditions apply, the MenB vaccine is always recommended. In these situations, booster shots may also be recommended every 2 or 3 years.
Possible MenB vaccine side effects include:
- redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
- muscle aches
Meningitis B is a medical emergency that’s always treated in a hospital. If you have meningitis B, you’ll immediately be given an injection of broad-spectrum antibiotics. You may also be given fluids intravenously.
If you’re having trouble breathing, medical staff may administer oxygen.
The people you’ve had close contact with may also be given oral antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
Most people who develop this disease survive without long-lasting after effects. However, meningitis B is a potentially fatal disease.
Even with treatment, some people who develop meningitis B can die from it. The sooner treatment is administered, the better chance of a positive outcome.
Of those who survive meningococcal disease, around 19 percent will have permanent side effects or disabilities. These can include:
- amputation of limbs
- brain damage
- deafness or hearing loss
- loss of kidney function
- skin scarring
Meningitis B is a form of bacterial meningitis. It’s a potentially deadly disease that can cause life-altering side effects.
Meningitis B can affect anyone of any age, but young adults are most typically affected. Living in close quarters, such as dormitories, can put you at higher risk.
There’s a vaccine that significantly reduces or eliminates the risk of developing meningitis B. To have the most complete protection against meningococcal disease, two different vaccinations are required.