Group B Streptococcus
July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, an annual campaign to highlight the importance of group B strep awareness, education and research.
Many people may not have heard of group B streptococcus (GBS). It is a type of bacteria that is very common in both men and women and usually lives in the bottom (rectum) or vagina. It affects two to four women in 10. GBS is normally harmless and most people will not realise they have it.
GBS is common in pregnant women and rarely causes any problems. However, it is the most common cause of severe infection in newborns and can lead to sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis.
Infection in newborns may be divided into two types:
Early Onset Disease (EOD)
This occurs in the first week of life and is usually acquired through bacteria from the mother.
Late Onset Disease (LOD)
This occurs between the seventh and ninetieth day of life. In these cases the baby is presumed to have been infected after birth, and infection may have been acquired while in hospital. The exact mode of transmission in late onset disease is unclear although outbreaks in hospitals are known to occur.
According to the Royal College of Gynaecologists on average, in the UK, every month 43 babies develop early-onset GBS infection. Of those, 38 babies make a full recovery, three babies survive with long-term physical or mental disabilities and two babies die from their early-onset GBS infection.
Data from Public Health England reveals that rates of group B strep infections in babies have risen by 77% in the past 24 years.
In the UK GBS is not routinely tested for, but may be found during tests carried out for another reason, such as a urine test or vaginal swab. If GBS is found in the urine, vagina or rectum during pregnancy, or a previous baby has been affected by a GBS infection, you may need extra care and treatment such as antibiotics.
The charity Group B Strep Support is trying to raise awareness and has called for action to educate parents, doctors and midwives about the bacteria and potential problems for newborns.
If you are worried about group B strep, speak to your midwife or GP for advice. Talk to them about the risks to your baby and ask their advice about whether to get tested.
Most babies with a group B strep infection make a full recovery if treated.