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Can Group B Strep infections contribute to birth injuries?

Group B Strep infections can be particularly scary for expectant mothers because anyone, even healthy mothers, can carry GBS and may not even display any symptoms.

What is Group B Streptococcus?

Group B Streptococcus (Streptococcus agalactiae, group B strep, or GBS) is a gram-positive streptococcal bacterium commonly found in the intestines and lower genital tract.  In adults, it is usually harmless, but mothers can pass GBS to their babies during delivery.

 

Serious risks to baby

In newborns, Group B strep can cause serious illness including sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, or even death.  In a newborn’s first week of life, GBS is actually the leading cause of meningitis and sepsis.  In the United States, about 4-6% of babies with GBS infections actually die.

There are two types of group B strep disease.  Early onset GBS (the most common type of GBS) occurs in the first week of a newborn’s life.  Late-onset disease occurs from the first week through three months of a newborn’s life.

Easy tests available

About 25% of pregnant women can have GBS in their vagina or rectum and may not display any symptoms, even healthy pregnant women.  Testing positive for GBS does not mean that you are dirty, unhealthy, or suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.  Anyone can carry GBS.  Because GBS can be asymptomatic, the CDC recommends that pregnant women be tested for GBS at 35-37 weeks.

The GBS test only requires a swab of the vagina and rectum, so it is an easy and pain free test.  The sample is then analyzed in a lab for any presence of GBS, with results available within 24-48 hours.  If a women tests positive for GBS, she should be put on antibiotics to reduce the chance of giving GBS to her baby (1 in 4000 chance with antibiotics, 1 in 200 chance without antibiotics).

Treating mother

Doctors and health care providers can help reduce the incidence of GBS in newborns by testing all pregnant women and prescribing antibiotics.  The antibiotics (usually penicillin) are actually given to the mother during labor through an IV starting at least four hours before delivery.  There are maternal risk factors that can increase the chance of transmitting GBS.  These include membrane rupture before 37 weeks gestation, membrane rupture more than eighteen hours before delivery, having a UTI during pregnancy, having another baby with GBS, and having a fever during labor.

Failing to test is inexcusable

If doctors do not test mothers for GBS and treat it with antibiotics, the newborn could get very sick or even die.  It is important that doctors treat the mother with antibiotics during delivery because the bacteria grow back so quickly.  Before you deliver your baby, the doctor should check to make sure you have received the GBS test, screen you for maternal risk factors, and be aware if you are allergic to penicillin or other antibiotics, so that the doctor can safely deliver your baby.  If your doctor does not follow these easy steps to screen and treat GBS, your baby could be put at risk for serious illness or even death.

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