European regulators have approved the first vaccine against meningitis B, made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis.

Novartis said Tuesday that the European Commission approved Bexsero for use in patients ages 2 months and older, and the company will make the vaccine available as soon as possible.

Meningitis mainly affects infants and children. The disease can be fatal or can leave patients with lifelong consequences such as brain damage or impaired hearing.

There are five types of bacterial meningitis, and while vaccines exist to protect against four, none has previously been licensed for type B meningitis. In Europe, type B is the most common, causing 3,000 to 5,000 cases every year.

Novartis said a vaccination is the best defense against the rare disease, since its symptoms often resemble the flu, and it can be easily misdiagnosed.

The European Medicines Agency had said in November that it recommended the vaccine's approval. Novartis also is seeking to test the vaccine in the United States.

Its shares closed at $65.64 on Friday.