October is prenatal onset Group B streptococcus disease recognition month. Below is brief guide to a condition that deserves greater discussion.

What is Group B Strep?

Group B Strep, or GBS, is a bacterium that is carried harmlessly by many people. It is commonly found in the gut, as well as in the vagina and bowel of about one-fifth of women in the UK. The bacterium is usually harmless and, as it does not normally cause any symptoms, most people do not know that they are carriers. 

Group B Strep and pregnancy

During pregnancy and birth, Group B Strep can cause complications for your baby. For babies who contract the infection, this can be extremely serious. In the UK, two in 10 babies infected with Group B Strep will recover but suffer some level of disability and, sadly, one in 10 infected babies die.

The consequences of maternal Strep B can be avoided with the right medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the signs are often missed or ignored, and a delay in treatment can result in injuries to the child that would otherwise have been avoided.

The Risk Factors

Carrying the bacteria does not automatically mean that your baby will become infected. However, there are certain recognised situations that increase the likelihood that a baby will go on to develops a GBS infection.

Risk Factors 

According to UK charity Group B Strep Support, the risks of a new-born baby contracting GBS are increased in:

  • Mothers who have previously had a baby infected with Group B Strep (where the risk is 10 times greater);
  • Mothers who have been shown to carry Group B Strep in this pregnancy, or in whose urine Group B Strep has been found at any time during the pregnancy (where the risk is four times greater).

The risk is also increased where:

  • the mother has an unusually raised temperature during labour;
  • the mother's waters are broken more than 18 hours before the baby is actually born; or
  • where the baby is premature

Prevention and Treatment for GBS

During pregnancy, a woman should be assessed to establish the risk of transferring GBS to her baby. Where GBS is found in the vagina or bowel, or when the mother is at particularly high risk, antibiotics should be given during labour. 

After birth, babies who show symptoms of a Group B Strep infection should be treated promptly with antibiotics.

Ignoring the signs – the consequences

When risks are not properly identified in the mother, or when symptoms of Group B Strep are not spotted in the baby, there can be a delay in treatment.

Often, symptoms are overlooked or dismissed as being caused by a less serious condition. 

Where Group B Strep is not identified and effectively treated it can lead to other serious conditions including sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia.  Sadly, this can result in serious injuries that could or should have been avoided.