by Jane Plumb MBE and CEO of Group B Strep Support Group
You might have already heard of group B Strep or ‘Strep B’. Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterium that can cause serious illness in people of all ages, with the infections especially severe in newborn babies.
Fortunately, the vast majority of these infections can be prevented, simply and safely, when Mums carrying group B Strep are offered antibiotics in labour.
Get the facts about group B Strep – what the ‘risk factors’ are, and what the key signs and symptoms of infection are. Then you can make an informed decision about what is right for you and your baby.
Here are the top 5 things you need to know:
1. Carrying or being ‘colonised with’ group B Strep is normal
It's carried by around a quarter of healthy adult women. Carriage causes no symptoms or harm to Mum.
2. On average in the UK, one baby a day develops group B Strep infection
Group B Strep is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies, most commonly sepsis (infection of the blood) or pneumonia (infection in the lungs), and of meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord) in babies under three months.
3. Most group B Strep infection in newborn babies can be prevented
By giving intravenous antibiotics (into a vein) in labour to Mums who are carrying group B Strep.
4. In the UK, women are offered the antibiotics in labour if:
- group B Strep has been identified during the current pregnancy (from urine, vaginal or rectal samples)
- a previous baby was diagnosed with group B Strep infection, or
- Mum has a fever in labour or other signs and symptoms of chorioamnionitis
Mums may also be offered the antibiotics if labour starts preterm (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy) and either her waters broke before the labour started, or her waters will have been broken more than 18 hours when the baby is expected to be born.
5. Testing is the only way to detect group B Strep
There are no signs or symptoms of carriage. Tests specifically for group B Strep carriage are rarely available on the NHS, though are available privately (see www.gbss.org.uk/test for those that follow Public Health England guidance).
As we said, most group B Strep infections can be prevented by antibiotics given in labour to women carrying GBS or where other risks are identified. In the unlikely event that your baby shows signs of group B Strep infection or meningitis, call your doctor immediately. If your doctor isn’t available, go straight to your nearest Paediatric Casualty Department. If a baby has group B Strep infection or meningitis, early diagnosis and treatment are vital: delay could be fatal.
Group B Strep may not be something you've heard about before – and it’s good to know about it when you’re pregnant. Group B Strep infections aren’t common but, if you carry group B Strep, you can take highly effective steps to protect your healthy newborn baby from these potentially devastating infections.
About Group B Strep Support
National charity, Group B Strep Support works to give all women in the UK access to up to date information about group B Strep.
About Jane Plumb
Jane Plumb MBE is the Chief Executive of Group B strep Support and wrote this guest blog for Tommy's. Her middle child, Theo, died from group B Strep infection just hours after his birth back in 1996:
'While it's very unlikely that his infection could have been prevented, we found out very quickly that so many group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be. We therefore founded the charity, Group B Strep Support, to eradicate preventable group B Strep infection in babies, and to support those affected by it.'
The RCOG guidelines on preventing group B Strep infections in newborn babies
The RCOG currently do not recommend standardised testing for all women.
They do however recommend that women who are at risk of having a baby infected with GBS are given intrapartum IV antibiotics. Those women thought to be at risk are women who:
- have had a previous baby infected with the disease
- who have a high temperature in labour
- who have prolonged pre-labour rupture of membranes
- who have preterm rupture of membranes
- or those who are known to be colonised with GBS
The study looked at data of 12,500 women during their pregnancy.
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