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Meningococcal Disease: Focus on Serogroup B

Why is serogroup B meningococcal disease of particular concern?

Serogroup B is unique because it is the most common cause of meningococcal disease in US adolescents and young adults, and until recently, there was no vaccine approved in the US to protect against it.

  • Meningococcal serogroup B vaccination may be recommended by healthcare professionals for certain individuals age 16-23 years, with a preferred age of 16-18 years. Individuals in this age group are encouraged to talk with their healthcare professional about vaccination.
  • Routine vaccination with meningococcal A, C, W, Y vaccines is recommended for all individuals at age 11-12 years, with a booster dose at age 16 years.

Why is there a separate vaccine to protect against serogroup B disease?

The vaccine against serogroup B was more difficult to develop because the outer coating on serogroup B bacteria behaves differently than the outer coatings on other serogroups. But scientists eventually overcame this challenge and two serogroup B vaccines are now approved for use in the US. Eventually, scientists may figure out how to combine serogroup B into the other vaccine, but for now, serogroup B vaccines are monovalent, meaning they protect only against this one serogroup.

  • In addition to the permissive recommendations for serogroup B vaccination in ages 16-23 years, the vaccine is recommended for all college students on campuses experiencing serogroup B outbreaks.

Have there been serogroup B meningococcal outbreaks on college campuses?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about recent meningococcal outbreaks.

Because it is impossible to know whether one case will be isolated or if it signals the start of an outbreak, even one case can cause considerable concern on and around campuses.

Following any case, campus and local health officials generally identify and give preventive treatment to people who were in contact with the student, examine the bacteria isolated from the student to determine if these cases are related to any others (i.e., are part of an outbreak), and monitor closely for additional cases. Campus-wide, and often community-wide educational and awareness programs are often also put in place.

Is serogroup B disease more severe than other serogroups?

  • Serogroup B meningococcal disease is of similar severity to disease caused by other serogroups.
  • Meningococcal disease, regardless of serogroup, is marked by rapid progression (typically hours, but occasionally days) from symptom onset to severe outcomes, even when it is treated quickly.
    • The death rate from meningococcal disease, even with rapid and appropriate treatment, is 10 to 15 percent.
    • Long-term complications will affect 11 to 19 percent of survivors and include hearing loss, skin scarring, brain damage, kidney failure, and limb amputations among others.

Additional Resources

Meningococcal Disease in Adults

Many adults need to be vaccinated if they are at increased risk of meningococcal disease, including college students, military personnel, and some international travelers