Approx 25% of pregnant women carry the GBS bacterium
Since 2003 GBS infections in newborns have increased by 21%
One baby a week dies from a Group B Strep infection
What is Group B Strep?
Group B Streptococcus, also known as Group B Strep and GBS, is a common bacterium living normally in the bowel in 20-40% of men and women.
It’s estimated that around one in four pregnant women in the UK carry GBS in their digestive system or vagina. Although GBS can be passed through sexual contact it is not a sexually transmitted disease.
Although GBS is rarely harmful to the mother it can pass to the baby, particularly during labour. This can cause serious complications such as sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis that can be life threatening for the baby. GBS is also known to cause urinary tract infections, and rarely, can infect the uterus and cause late miscarraiges, preterm birth, and stillbirth.
The good news is that if detected during pregnancy, GBS infection in your newborn baby can usually be prevented with antibiotics in labour. It’s therefore important to get tested from 35 weeks onwards into your pregnancy to find out if you are carrying the bacterium. If you are, you can be offered intravenous antibiotics in labour which are very effective at preventing GBS infection during the vital first hours and days of life.
How can Group B Strep affect my baby?
One newborn baby a day develops a Group B Strep infection
of all pregnant
Group B Strep
Between 2000 – 2015, GBS infections in newborns in the UK has increased 37%
On average in the UK, one newborn baby a fortnight dies from a Group B Strep infection
If Group B Strep is passed to a baby they are at risk of developing one of two types of GBS infection:
Early onset GBS infection:
Around two thirds of GBS infection are early-onset and occur within the first week of a baby’s life. Early onset usually presents as pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis, and may display the following signs:
- grunting, noisy breathing, moaning, seeming to be working hard to breathe when you look at their chest or tummy or not breathing at all
- be very sleepy and/or unresponsive
- be crying inconsolably
- be unusually floppy
- not feeding well or not keeping milk down
- have a high or low temperature and/or their skin feels too hot or cold
- have changes in their skin colour (including blotchy skin)
- have an abnormally fast or slow heart rate or breathing rate
- have low blood pressure*
- have low blood sugar*
*Identified by tests done in hospital
Although the majority of early onset GBS infections do not lead to chronic damage it can cause long-term problems such as cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and serious learning difficulties.
Outcomes of early-onset GBS infection
Most newborn babies will recover from their GBS infection. However, 1 in 17 newborn babies with GBS infection will die and 1 in 14 babies who survive their GBS infection will be affected permanently.
Up to half of survivors with GBS meningitis will suffer from physical disability, brain damage, mild to moderate learning disability, deafness, blindness and lung damage.
Late onset GBS infection:
One third of GBS infections are late onset, typically in the form of meningitis and sepsis, occurring after the first week and up to age 3 months. Late-onset can also present as septic arthritis (infection in the joints) and osteomyelitis (infection in the bone). Typical signs of late-onset group B Strep infection are similar to those associated with early onset infection and may include signs associated with meningitis such as:
- Being irritable with high pitched or whimpering cry, or moaning;
- Blank, staring or trance-like expression;
- Floppy, may dislike being handled, be fretful;
- Tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on babies’ heads);
- Turns away from bright light;
- Involuntary stiff body or jerking movements; and/or
- Pale, blotchy skin.
Although generally harmless to pregnant women it is recognised that GBS can occasionally cause late miscarriage, preterm birth, and stillbirth.
Preterm babies are known to be at particular risk of GBS infection as their immune systems are not as well developed as those of full-term babies.
1 in 17 newborn babies who develop GBS infection will die from the infection
The importance of testing for GBS
In the UK routine antenatal testing is currently not offered by the NHS. This is in sharp contrast to many other developed countries who provide GBS screening to all pregnant women.
Health services in the UK rely upon a ‘risk factor’ approach to determine which newborns are more likely to be at-risk of developing early-onset GBS infection. The approach looks at factors such as high temperature during labour, labour starting preterm or waters breaking early, previous GBS baby, and GBS detected this/last pregnancy. Intravenous antibiotics given in labour to women carrying GBS have been proven to markedly reduce the risk of the newborn developing early onset GBS infection. This ‘risk factor’ system could be significantly improved upon as the rate of GBS infections in babies is not going down.
Strepelle can help change this. Strepelle is an easy to use home to laboratory test for use from 35 weeks of pregnancy. Although GBS carriage can come and go, this is typically happens over periods of months, not hours or days. Strepelle’s test for GBS carriage is highly predictive of whether you will be carrying GBS for the next 5 weeks which, when testing at 35-37 weeks, is when you are most likely to go into labour.