New data shows England’s rate of group B Strep infection in babies rose by 77% between 1996 and 2020
GBS is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies, causing sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis
Leading national charity Group B Strep Support calls for urgent action to educate parents, doctors and midwives about group B Strep
Over the last 24 years, between 1996 and 2020, England’s rate of group B Strep infection in babies has risen by 77%. New data presented by Public Health England (PHE) at charity Group B Strep Support’s conference shows that more babies than ever are developing life-threatening group B Strep infection – despite most of these cases being entirely preventable. It means the rate of group B Strep infection in infants is currently more than double that of many other high-income countries, many of whom have introduced routine antenatal screening for GBS.
Group B Streptococcus (group B Strep, GBS or Strep B) is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies, causing sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis. Two babies on average develop GBS infection in the UK every day. Tragically one of those sick babies dies every week and one survivor is left with long-term disability.
The new PHE data, which has not been published before, comes from PHE’s Second Generation Surveillance System and shows that 295 babies developed early onset GBS in 1996. This figure rose to 520 in 2020 – a rise of 77%. It is being presented by Dr Theresa Lamagni from PHE’s Healthcare-Associated Infection & Antimicrobial Resistance Division at the charity’s international conference on GBS on June 2nd. It comes on the day the charity launches a new campaign to coincide with its 25th year anniversary.
Group B Strep Support are calling for urgent action to reverse this trend, and protect tiny lives. We are calling for:
- All expectant parents to be informed about group B Strep
- All doctors and midwives to be fully informed about group B Strep
- All hospitals in the UK to use the recommended test for group B Strep carriage
Our new report – Preventing Group B Strep Infections in Babies in the UK – past, present and future summarises these findings and what needs to change.
Nadine Dorries, Minister for Maternity Safety:
“The NHS is one of the safest places in the world to give birth, and I urge women to not hesitate in coming forward for scans and NHS support as soon as possible.
“Group B Strep (GBS) can be a silent killer and I am determined to do everything I can to protect mothers and babies.
“I was proud to announce a large-scale clinical trial in 2019 comparing universal screening for GBS against usual risk-based care for expectant mothers which will enable us to gather crucial evidence on the best approach and we continue to keep our policy under review”
Jane Plumb MBE, Group B Strep Support Chief Executive:
“Looking back over the past 25 years is a bittersweet experience. I am deeply proud of the huge impact Group B Strep Support has made, and the progress we have seen in the development of group B Strep policy and impacting research. I am also deeply frustrated that the UK still lags behind the rest of the developed world on group B Strep prevention.
This new data from Public Health England shows that so many more babies are developing what is often a preventable disease, and that the pace of change is slow. Urgent action is needed.”
Eddie Morris, one of the UK’s leading obstetricians and gynaecologists and Chair of Trustees at Group B Strep Support:
“This new information from Public Health England demonstrates why it is vital that best practice around the prevention of group B Strep infection is followed. It’s disturbing to see that rates of GBS have increased so much over the past 24 years – particularly when today many of these cases are easily preventable.
We all have an important role to play in ensuring families are aware of group B Strep, and are supported to make informed choices about their care, as recommended in the Royal College Of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist’s Green-Top guideline. Group B Strep Support has worked closely with the RCOG to develop
Group B Strep is a bacteria carried harmlessly by around 20-25% of pregnant women in the UK. It usually only causes a problem if a baby is exposed to group B Strep around labour and in the early weeks after birth.
Most group B Strep infections in babies develop in their first week of life (early-onset GBS infection), but it can develop up to three months of age (late-onset GBS infection). Most early-onset GBS infection can be prevented by giving women who are carrying group B Strep preventative antibiotics in labour.
A report published by the charity in February 2021 found UK-wide failures to follow national guidelines on group B Strep. 51% of Trusts did not provide pregnant women with information on group B Strep, 66% used the wrong swab test to try and detect GBS, and 87% used the wrong laboratory methodology to process the swab tests.
Guidelines recommend that when testing for group B Strep carriage, the GBS-specific Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) test should be used. Only 13% of Trusts were using the ECM test.
The charity is supporting the ongoing GBS3 trial. The trial will involve 320,000 pregnant women, and will compare the effectiveness of testing in pregnancy or labour to the UK’s current risk-based prevention approach. GBS3’s results will inform future GBS prevention policy in the UK, and the charity is working with the trial team and the NHS to ensure hospitals sign up to take part in the trial.
Kathryn Gutteridge, Group B Strep Support Trustee and President of the Royal College of Midwives:
“It is heart-breaking to hear that so many families are still being affected by group B Strep. This largely treatable infection affects families at birth but for many so much longer than this. Women meet their midwife early in their childbearing journey and for the majority will be with them well beyond that initial meeting. Midwives are in a perfect position to educate families about group B Strep, helping them understand what their options are, and supporting them through shared decision making.
Group B Strep Support is a fantastic charity working to stop group B Strep infection in babies. They have worked closely with the RCM to ensure that midwives are better educated about group B Strep but there is still more work to be done around educating all healthcare professionals and parents-to-be, as these new worrying figures show.”