Carrying group B Streptococcus (GBS) is perfectly normal and natural whether you are pregnant or not.
GBS is a normal bacterium which is carried by up to 30% of UK adults, most commonly in the gut, and for up to 25% of women, in the vagina, usually without symptoms or side-effects.
A positive vaginal or rectal swab result for GBS means a woman is colonised with or carries GBS at the time the swab was taken – not that she is ill. (However, GBS found in the urine is usually GBS infection and should be treated at diagnosis with oral antibiotics and the treatment repeated until urine tests come back clear. Click here for more information.)
GBS can occasionally cause infection – although uncommon, this most often occurs in newborn babies, more rarely in adults and even more rarely in children. GBS infection is diagnosed when the bacteria are grown from body fluids that are usually sterile, such as blood or spinal fluid. These are known as cultures and normally take one to two days to complete.
When GBS infection occurs in adults, it’s usually (but not always) in those with serious underlying medical conditions which reduce the effectiveness of the immune system; the elderly; and pregnant women. Although uncommon, GBS infection in adults displays a whole spectrum of severity, from easily treated to very serious, particularly in non-pregnant adults.
GBS infections in adults are usually skin and soft tissue infections (such as infection of skin ulcers caused by poor circulation and diabetes, or pressure sores in patients confined to bed), blood infections, pneumonia and urinary tract infections (such as kidney, bladder or prostate infections). GBS bacteria may also cause meningitis in adults, as well as bone infections and deep eye infections. The overall rate of GBS bacteraemia (GBS detected from the blood) per 100,000 population for 2015 was 3.1 per 100,000 population for England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined (source: PHE).
Early recognition and treatment is important for the cure of GBS infection. High doses of antibiotics such as
penicillin should be administered and the full course should be taken. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to drain infected sites and remove damaged tissue. GBS infections, especially the more deep-seated ones, require expert care, prolonged courses of antibiotics and sometimes more than one antibiotic at the same time. Due to the varied nature of these infections, it is impossible to generalise about what is the most appropriate treatment.
Most GBS infection can be treated successfully, although some people will require all the expertise of intensive care facilities. Not all hospitals have such a facility and so some ill patients will have to be transferred to one with these specialised facilities.