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How You Might Be Overlooking the Dangers of Meningitis B

Every time you take your child to the pediatrician, it can seem like they need another immunization, at least in the early years. And as much as your child might complain about getting shots, those vaccines protect against a range of dangerous illnesses.

But there’s one vaccine that can help keep your child from getting sick, and even dying, that often gets missed. It’s the vaccine for meningitis B.

What is meningitis B?

“Meningitis B is a disease caused by a bacteria that infects and inflames the tissue around the brain and spine,” said Jessica Regnaert, MD, a family medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Mesa, AZ.

Symptoms of meningitis B include fever, stiff neck, headache and a change in mental status like not thinking clearly or staying awake.

Meningitis B isn’t common, but it’s a serious disease. About 10 to 15 percent of people who get infected die, sometimes within 24 hours after they start to show symptoms. And of the people who survive, about 20 percent have long-term disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage or loss of limbs.

Who is at risk for meningitis B?

Young people aged 16 to 23 are most at risk for meningitis B and living in a dorm or group setting increases your risk. Younger people are also more likely to do things like share drinks or utensils, which also increases risk. There were 14 outbreaks on college campuses in the United States between 2011 and 2019.

Other at-risk groups include people who do not have a spleen, people with sickle cell disease, people who have a form of immunodeficiency called persistent complement component deficiency, and people on the medications eculizumab or rovelizumab.

Meningitis B is spread through contact with someone who is carrying the bacteria. Along with sharing drinks and living in close quarters, kissing, coughing and sneezing can spread the disease.

How can you prevent meningitis B?

Vaccination can help protect against meningitis B. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the vaccine for people aged 16 to 23, and ideally, it should be administered by age 18.

Even if you’ve always been careful to make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations, there are a couple of factors that make it possible your child didn’t get vaccinated for meningitis B.

First, two different vaccines protect against meningitis. Sometimes, people get one vaccine and don’t realize they need another.

Plus, the vaccine for meningitis B wasn’t introduced until 2014. So, a lot of teenagers and young adults haven’t received it yet. They may have missed a wellness visit in the age range when they should have been vaccinated.

The bottom line

The meningitis B vaccine can help reduce the risk that your child will contract the disease. And it’s essential to protect against meningitis B—while it’s rare, it can cause serious long-term side effects and death.

Talk to your pediatrician to see if your child needs the meningitis B vaccine or connect with a Banner Health pediatrician who can help.

Learn more about how vaccines can keep you and your family safe with these articles:

Children's Health Immunizations Infectious Disease