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Group B Strep – have you heard of it?


Group B Strep SupportWell, if not, you’re not alone. Last November, a survey found that only 54% young women in the UK had heard of GBS and, of those who had, only 20% knew what it was.

Here are the key facts:

  • Around 20-25% of women carry Group B Strep (also known as GBS and Strep B) as part of their healthy vaginal and rectal bacteria, where it is normal, has no symptoms and causes no problems to the carrier.
  • GBS also causes infection though and is the most common cause of serious infection in newborn babies. Without preventative medicine, around one out of every 300 babies born to women carrying GBS will develop infections such as sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis.
  • Most babies will recover from their GBS infection, but even with the best medical care, around one in every 10 of these sick babies will die and some of the survivors will be left with long-term problems, especially when the baby has had GBS meningitis

Ok, who knew that? We’re told about spina bifida, sickle cell disease, Down’s Syndrome but not about GBS – how come? Maybe nothing can be done about it? Well, no… more facts:

  • Most GBS infections in newborn babies are preventable by giving Mums whose babies are at raised risk antibiotics (usually penicillin) in labour
  • A Mum carrying GBS who has antibiotics in labour has a less than one in 6,000 risk of her newborn developing GBS infection, compared with around a one in 300 chance if she doesn’t.
  • Key risk factors for GBS infection in newborn babies are:
    • A sibling having GBS infection
    • GBS found in the urine or from a vaginal or rectal swab during the current pregnancy
    • Labour starting or waters breaking before 37 weeks of pregnancy
    • Waters breaking more than 18 hours before birth
    • Mum having a raised temperature in labour
  • GBS infection usually shows early – normally on the first day of life. After the first week, these infections are rare and after ago 3 months very rare indeed.
  • Key signs/symptomsof GBS infection in babies include
    • Age 0-6 days: grunting; lethargy; irritability; poor feeding; very high or low heart rate; low blood pressure/ blood sugar; abnormal (high or low) temperature; and abnormal (fast or slow) breathing rates with blueness of the skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis)
    • Age 7-90 days: fever; poor feeding and/or vomiting; impaired consciousness; plus typical symptoms of meningitis, including any of: fever, which may include the hands and feet feeling cold, and/or diarrhoea; refusing feeds or vomiting; shrill or moaning cry or whimpering; dislike of being handled, fretful; tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the head); involuntary body stiffening or jerking movements; floppy body; blank, staring or trance-like expression; abnormally drowsy, difficult to wake or withdrawn; altered breathing patterns; turns away from bright lights; and pale and/or blotchy skin.
    • If a baby shows signs consistent with GBS 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 GBS infection or meningitis, early diagnosis and treatment are vital: delay could be fatal.

The number of newborns with GBS infection has been rising: up nearly a third since ‘risk-based’ prevention measures were introduced in 2003. UK pregnant women aren’t offered screening for GBS, which may explain this – many western countries routinely screen pregnant women for GBS (usually at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy) and have seen their numbers fall by between 71-86%.

Some enlightened NHS trusts offer some of their pregnant women sensitive tests for GBS carriage (the tests usually used by the NHS were not designed to detect GBS carriage and give high false-negative results) and – if women want to be tested – they can obtain reliable home-testing kits for around £35. Labs listed at offer the sensitive ECM (Enriched Culture Medium) test, following the Health Protection Agency National Standard Method.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, when asked, young women say they want to be told about group B Strep, they want to be offered tests for GBS as a routine part of their antenatal care and, if found to be carrying it, they want to be offered antibiotics in labour.

Prevention is better than cure, particularly when we’re talking about life-threatening infections in newborn babies.

Isn’t it about time the UK caught up with other western countries on this?

During GBS Awareness Month, please help protect babies by:

From Mel at MilkChic: This is a guest post from Jane Plumb MBE, of Group B Strep Support. Please take the time to read and share this information and if you have a website, consider downloading a badge. As a Group B Strep carrier myself (routinely swabbed in pregnancy) and having been educated about the risks, I was horrified by the lack of knowledge when I moved to a new area. Preventative measures are so simple for Group B Strep – protection shouldn’t be down to luck.


2 thoughts on “Group B Strep – have you heard of it?

  1. RT @milkchic: I have an must-read post on my blog about Group B Strep (I didn’t write it) Please read & share. @GBSSupport

  2. RT @milkchic: I have an must-read post on my blog about Group B Strep (I didn’t write it) Please read & share. @GBSSupport

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