Meningitis B is a serogroup of meningitis that occurs as a result of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. It is one of the most common serogroups of meningitis in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the rate of N. meningitidis meningitis is highest among adolescents and children under 5 years old.

It is the most common type of bacterial meningitis in young adults, according to the Meningitis B Action Project.

Without treatment, meningitis B can be deadly. Vaccination is key to limiting the spread and preventing severe complications.

This article discusses what meningitis B is, its symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention. It also looks at the outlook and when a person should contact a doctor.

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Meningitis is an infection of the meninges — the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Meningitis B is a type of meningococcal disease that occurs due to the N. meningitidis bacteria. Typically, the bacteria live in the throat. However, if they pass into the bloodstream, they can travel to, and infect, the meninges.

Meningitis can also cause an infection of the blood called bacteremia, or blood poisoning.

There are 12 serogroups of N. meningitidis, with serogroups A, B, C, W135, X, and Y causing the most infections.

In the U.S., serogroups B, C, and Y are most common.

This condition is rare in the U.S. However, according to the CDC, meningococcal disease can lead to death in 10–15 people out of every 100 with the infection.

People who recover may have long-term injuries. Approximately 10–20 out of 100 people may develop long-term complications, such as hearing loss, brain damage, kidney damage, and problems with their nervous system.

Meningitis B is a medical emergency and can lead to death in hours. If people notice any symptoms of meningitis, they should contact a healthcare professional immediately.

Bacterial meningitis symptoms occur within 3–7 days after exposure. The symptoms may resemble those of the flu and can vary from person to person.

The condition begins as an upper respiratory tract infection and then travels through the bloodstream to the brain.

In babies and toddlers

Babies and toddlers under 1 year of age are more at risk for meningitis, and symptoms may be more difficult to identify.

Symptoms in babies include:

  • inactivity or slowness
  • irritability
  • vomiting
  • a decrease in appetite
  • bulging of the soft spot of the head, or fontanelle
  • abnormal reflexes
  • rash

According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, the first symptoms usually include fever, vomiting, severe headache, and feeling unwell.

Other symptoms include:

  • a stiff neck
  • sensitivity to lights, or photophobia
  • feeling very sleepy or being difficult to wake up
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • rash

In adolescents and adults

Primary symptoms of meningitis B in adults include:

  • severe headache
  • sudden fever
  • stiff neck

Other symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to light
  • rapid breathing
  • convulsions
  • sleepiness
  • cold hands and feet
  • shivering
  • confusion
  • rash

Meningitis rash

One symptom of meningitis is a rash that appears all over the body.

As the bacteria travel through the bloodstream and multiply, they produce toxins that damage the organs and blood vessels.

Blood leaks from the damaged blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. This causes what appears to be a rash. However, a rash does not always appear.

If it does, it can appear differently on different skin types.

Learn more about the meningitis rash here.

Approximately 1 in 10 people can carry the bacteria in the back of their nose or mouth without experiencing illness.

Meningitis B occurs when the bacteria break through the lining at the back of the throat, enter the bloodstream, and travel around the body. The bacteria can then infect the meninges and lead to bacteremia.

Meningitis B spreads through droplets, such as saliva.

A person may contract meningitis B by:

  • sharing anything that has come into contact with saliva
  • being in close quarters
  • kissing
  • sharing cigarettes and electronic cigarettes
  • being sneezed or coughed on

Certain factors increase a person’s risk of getting meningitis B, including:

  • Age: Children under the age of 1 year and students between the ages of 16–23 years are more likely to contract meningitis B.
  • Setting: The disease spreads among large groups of people who live in close quarters, such as college students. People who live in the same household as a person with the infection are also at risk.
  • Autoimmune or other medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as HIV, can increase a person’s chance of contracting meningitis B.
  • Travel: People may have a greater chance of contracting the N. meningitidis bacteria if they travel to places with a higher prevalence.

To help prevent contracting meningitis B, a person can adopt the following habits:

  • cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • wash the hands often with soap and water
  • avoid close contact with those who are ill
  • get plenty of rest
  • avoid smoking

MenB vaccines include Bexsero and Trumenba.

The CDC recommends that all children aged 11–12 years get the MenACWY vaccine, with a booster dose at 16 years. MenACWY vaccines can protect against meningococcal disease caused by serogroups A, C, W, and Y.

Those aged 16­–23 years can get the MenB vaccine, as well as those who are at an increased risk of meningococcal disease, including:

  • those at risk due to an outbreak
  • those who have a damaged spleen or those without a spleen, including those with sickle cell disease
  • those with complement component deficiency, which is a rare condition that affects the immune system
  • those taking complement inhibitor drugs, such as eculizumab or ravulizumab
  • microbiologists who work with N. meningitidis

The side effects of meningococcal vaccines are mild and present in more than half of those who are vaccinated.

A sore arm is most common and usually only lasts a couple of days.

Other side effects include:

  • swelling at the injection site
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle or joint pain
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • diarrhea

Vaccinations are available at doctor’s offices, health centers, or pharmacies.

A HealthMap Vaccine locator tool is also available.

Meningitis B is a medical emergency, and healthcare professionals will treat it as soon as possible using antibiotics.

Doctors may also treat those in contact with someone with meningitis B as a preventative measure.

Depending on the severity of the condition, a person may also require:

  • breathing support
  • medications to help treat low blood pressure
  • wound care for damaged skin
  • surgery to remove any dead tissue

Roughly 25% of people with meningococcal disease will experience complications.

Long-term complications include:

  • hearing loss
  • kidney damage
  • loss of limbs
  • nervous system problems
  • severe scars from skin grafts
  • seizures
  • speech loss
  • memory loss

Without treatment, meningitis B can lead to death.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that the outlook can depend on how quickly a person receives treatment and how severe their illness is.

Following treatment, those with bacterial meningitis will experience relief after 48–72 hours. However, they are more likely to develop complications than those who experienced only mild illness.

Severe infections may cause long-term complications. If this occurs, a person may require medication, supportive care, and long-term therapy.

The mortality rate for those with bacterial meningitis is 10–15%.

A person should consult with a doctor as soon as possible if they have symptoms of meningitis B.

If a caregiver notices any symptoms of meningitis B in an infant, they should contact a healthcare professional immediately, even if a rash is not present.

Meningitis B is a rare but serious bacterial infection of the brain and spinal cord.

Individuals may experience a rapid onset of severe flu-like symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.

Meningitis B is considered a medical emergency, and a doctor will quickly recommend antibiotics for treatment.

People are less likely to contract meningitis B if they practice healthy habits, such as hand washing, and get the MenB vaccination.