What is group B Strep?
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a normal bacterium which is carried by 20-40% of adults, most commonly in the gut, and for up to 25% of women, in the vagina, usually without symptoms or side-effects.
GBS can occasionally cause infection, most commonly in newborn babies, sometimes in adults and, very rarely, during pregnancy and before labour.
GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease. Treatment of a woman and her partner carrying GBS does not prevent re-colonisation.
There are two types of GBS infection in young babies: early and late-onset:
- Early-onset GBS infection is more common (approximately 2/3 of cases in babies) and occurs when the baby is up to 6 days old; a key symptom is the rapid development of breathing problems, associated with blood poisoning.
- Late-onset GBS infection – usually presenting as sepsis and meningitis – occurs between age 7 days and up to age 3 months. After 3 months’ old, GBS infection in babies is extremely rare.
GBS is a recognised cause preterm delivery, maternal infections, stillbirths and late miscarriages; preterm babies are known to be at particular risk of GBS infection as their immune systems are not as well developed.
Overall, even with current prevention strategies, approximately 1 in every 1,000 babies born in the UK develops group B Strep infection.
On average in the UK, at least
- two babies a day develop a group B Strep infection
- one baby a week dies from their GBS infection, and
- one baby a week survives with long-term disabilities – physical, mental or both.
For more information about the incidence of GBS bacteraemia (blood infection) in babies aged 0-90 days in England, Wales & Northern Ireland, click here.