A leading London hospital dramatically reduced the rates of a life-threatening infection in newborn babies thanks to a simple screening test.
New research published today from a pilot study at Northwick Park Hospital reports that screening pregnant women for group B Strep (GBS) reduced the rate of these potentially deadly infections in their newborn babies by 83%.
The results, published in the prestigious BMJ Open, come just days after the National Screening Committee said there was “insufficient evidence” to introduce routine GBS testing for mums-to-be in the UK.
Yet in countries that have introduced antenatal GBS screening – recognised internationally as best practice – rates of these infections have fallen by significantly, by 70-90%.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS or Strep B) is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis, and claims the life of one baby a week.
Previously Northwick Park Hospital had one of the highest rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies in the country, almost three times the national average, despite following national guidelines.
To combat this worrying figure, Dr Gopal Rao, Consultant Microbiologist at Northwick Park Hospital, decided to set up the screening programme in his busy UK multi-ethnic community to see whether this would help reduce the rate of group B Strep infection in newborn babies.
Over 6,000 pregnant women chose to have the test. This involved taking two simple swabs (which the majority of women chose to do themselves at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy) – after being given information about GBS.
“We welcome the results of this study, which demonstrates that antenatal screening for group B Strep carriage works in a busy, complex, multicultural UK setting and reinforces international evidence that group B Strep screening associated with intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis is safe, effective and saves lives and money.”
“These findings raise questions about the validity of the UK National Screening Committee’s recommendations last month against introducing routine screening of pregnant women for group B Strep. These results were not included in the review, and the UK NSC should re-examine their recommendation in light of this new evidence.”
In the UK, the rate of GBS infection in babies has risen. On average:
- 2 babies a day develop group B Strep infection
- 1 baby a week dies from group B Strep infection
- 1 baby a week survives with disability
Pregnant women during the study were offered testing for group B Strep carriage late in pregnancy using Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) tests. If group B Strep was found, they were offered intravenous antibiotics during labour. There were no reported increases in adverse side effects, such as increased antibiotic resistance or allergic reactions to the antibiotics.
During the 22-month study, only three newborn babies developed group B Strep infection and only one of those mothers had been screened. This was a fall in the rate of group B Strep infections in newborn babies of 66% overall, and 83% in babies born to screened mothers.