GBS infection in Adults

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) for 2017 was 3.9 per 100,000 population for England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. Rates were highest in those aged less than one year (71.0 per 100,000 population). In adults, rates of GBS bacteraemia were highest in those aged 75 and over (72.3 per 100,000 in females and 68.4 per 100,000 in males), as the graph below shows (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.