Babies and group B strep: what you should know

In this country, one baby dies each week from group B Strep (GBS) infection, while every fortnight one baby who survives it suffers long-term mental or physical disabilities. Yet according to the charity Group B Strep Support, around half of all expecting and new mums haven’t heard of it.

GBS is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis. Carried naturally by 20 – 30 percent of adult women, the infection is rarely dangerous to adults. But if it’s passed from mother to baby around the time of the birth, it can have devastating consequences for the baby.

July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, so it’s the ideal time to learn more about the infection and how it can be treated. Here are some of the facts you should know:

  • GBS is a normal bacterium that is mostly found in the intestines of adult men and women as part of the normal gut flora. It is also often found in the vaginas of adult women and can be passed from one person to another through sexual activity (it is not, however a sexually transmitted disease).
  • GBS can be passed from mother to baby during labour and childbirth. Around 75 percent of cases in newborns happen during the first six days of life, causing symptoms such as breathing problems associated with blood poisoning. Late-onset cases of GBS happen after a baby is six days old and normally by the time they reach one month (and more rarely by the time they are three months). The late-onset type of GBS usually causes meningitis.
  • Premature babies are thought to be at particular risk of GBS infection, owing to the fact that their immune systems may not be as well developed as babies born after a full-term pregnancy.
  • Around half of the babies who survive GBS meningitis are affected by long-term mental and/or physical problems, including learning disabilities, sight problems, hearing problems and lung damage.
  • There are no symptoms of carrying GBS – the only way you can find out is by having a test. However, routine testing of all pregnant women is not recommended in the UK. According to Group B Strep Support, countries that screen pregnant women for GBS have seen the incidence of infection in newborn babies reduced by up to 86 percent.
  • If you have been found to be carrying GBS during pregnancy, the risk of passing it on to your newborn baby can be dramatically reduced if you have intravenous antibiotics during labour.

You can find more information about GBS as well as how to order a test kit from Group B Strep Support at www.groupbstreptest.co.uk.

Your local Careway pharmacist also has plenty of advice for expectant and new mums. Use our Pharmacy Finder to locate a Careway pharmacy where you live.