but there’s still much to be done. Here are some
Quick facts about group B Strep:
Group B Strep is a common bacterium, carried normally by around 25% of men and women, usually without causing them any harm or symptoms.
Group B Strep can more rarely cause infection, most commonly in newborn babies. It’s the number one cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia.
In the UK, the number and rate of group B Strep infections in babies is rising. Yet most of these infections in newborn babies can be prevented when women and their health team know Mum carries the bacteria during pregnancy.
Since 1996, charity Group B Strep Support has led the way in the UK in pushing for better prevention of group B Strep infection, and in supporting affected families. We raise awareness, educate and support new and expectant parents and their health professionals; we campaign for better prevention strategies; and we support cutting-edge research.
Most group B Strep infections in babies can be stopped by knowing the facts, understanding the risks and recognising the symptoms of infection. Below are some bite-size facts, plus links to find out more.
- 2-3 in every 10 women carry group B Strep
- 800 babies a year develop group B Strep infection in the UK
- 2 babies a day develop group B Strep infection
- 1 baby a week dies from group B Strep infection
- 1 baby a week recovers from group B Strep infection with disability
- 8-9 in every 10 babies make a full recovery from their group B Strep infection
- Carrying group B Strep has no symptoms (and it’s not a sexually transmitted disease) and only very rarely causes problems for the carrier
- Carriage can be intermittent – the bacteria can come and go from the body over periods of several weeks or months (carriage does not come and go on a day to day basis)
- Group B Strep is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies, usually presenting at sepsis and pneumonia
- Group B Strep is the most common cause of meningitis in babies under age 3 months
- 8-9 out if every 10 babies will make a full recovery from their group B Strep but, even with the best medical care, some of these babies will have long-term disability and a smaller number will sadly die.
- Most group B Strep infection in newborn babies can be prevented
- Intravenous antibiotics (usually Penicillin) given in labour to women carrying group B Strep can prevent over 8 out of every 10 of these infections in newborn babies
- Tests specifically to detect group B Strep carriage (Enriched Culture Medium or ECM tests) are available that detect twice as many carriers as standard, non-specific tests. ECM tests are not currently widely available within the NHS. They are available privately from around £35-40 for home-to-laboratory testing packs, from online suppliers, community pharmacies and private clinics. See gbss.org.uk/test for providers whose GBS tests follow Public Health England guidelines.
Symptoms of infection
Early-onset group B Strep infection: Most group B Strep infection in babies show in the first day of life, with up to 2 out of every 3 cases develop in the first 6 days of life, typically as sepsis with pneumonia. Key symptoms of group B Strep infection in babies in their first 6 days include:
Grunting; Lethargy; Irritability; Poor feeding; Very high or low heart rate; Low blood pressure; Low blood sugar; Abnormal (high or low) temperature; and Abnormal (fast or slow) breathing rates with blueness of the skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis).
Late-onset group B Strep infection: Up to one third of GBS infections develop in babies aged 6-90 days, usually as meningitis with sepsis. Typical signs of later group B Strep infection are similar to those associated with the earlier infections and also include signs associated with meningitis such as:
Being irritable with high pitched or whimpering cry, or moaning; Blank, staring or trance-like expression; Floppy, may dislike being handled, be fretful; Tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot on babies’ heads); Turns away from bright light; Involuntary stiff body or jerking movements; and/or Pale, blotchy skin.
Visit our FAQ page and page about group B Strep for more information.
The Royal College of Obstetricians is currently reviewing their guidelines on preventing early onset group B Strep infections. The draft went out for consultation earlier in the year of much more comprehensive guidance than has been seen before (https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/get-involved-in-our-work/early-onset-gbs-peer-review-draft.pdf). The final document is due to be published this summer, and will, we expect, contain some significant improvements, with headline recommendations including:
- all pregnant women should be given information about group B Strep
- preterm labour is added to the list of risk-factors that prompt the offer of intravenous antibiotics in labour
- specific groups of women should be offered the option of testing for group B Strep carriage during their pregnancy, using the ECM tests
If fully implemented, we believe that these and other recommendations contained in the guidance will, at long last, start to reduce the rate of group B Strep infections in newborn babies in the UK.
Mr Philip Dunne MP, the Minister of State for Health, advised us on 10 April 2017 that he has “asked the National Institute of Health Research to commission a clinical trial to compare universal screening for GBS against usual risk-based care”. Such a trial would be of major importance not just in the UK but also to the international community, and we hope would report in time to inform the next review of universal antenatal screening for group B Strep carriage, due 2019/20.
How to get involved:
Group B Strep Awareness Month may be over for another year, but there are still things you can do: