Largest study of its kind shows babies who survive their GBS infection face greater risk of neurodevelopmental impairments and underlines need for follow-up care for survivors
Invasive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) disease during the first days and months of a baby’s life can have a long-term effect for children and their families, and new results show longer term effects including after GBS sepsis as well as after GBS meningitis, as published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
This large study analysed outcomes for nearly 25,000 children born in Denmark and The Netherlands, between 1997 and 2017. Results show that children who had invasive GBS infection are twice as likely to have neurodevelopmental impairments and require special educational support than children who did not have GBS infection. Effects later in life are significant – about one in 20 survivors will experience some form of neurodevelopmental disability. The majority of GBS infection survivors will not have long term effects.
This study was conducted through a partnership of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Aarhus University (Denmark), Amsterdam UMC (Netherlands) and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
Invasive GBS infection is increasingly recognised as a leading cause of newborn illness worldwide, with approximately 300,000 cases estimated annually. However, important knowledge gaps include long-term outcomes of babies who survive the acute infection. Several previous small studies have followed babies after GBS meningitis to about two years. No previous study has examined outcomes after GBS sepsis. This study aimed to address priority data gaps.
This is the largest study quantifying long term effects of GBS infection for babies who survive, with follow-up to the second decade. We add to findings on long-term effects after meningitis, showing more subtle cognitive outcomes at older ages. These new findings show an important, previously unquantified risk after GBS sepsis. Our results suggest that continued medical follow-up is key and could lead to earlier identification of problems, and more support to families.Dr. Bronner Gonçalves, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and a lead author on the study
Children in the study were identified using national medical, laboratory and routine databases. 2,258 were diagnosed as having had GBS infection, including meningitis and sepsis, within the first three months of life. For every GBS case, ten children who did not have the infection were matched on age, sex and other characteristics influencing long-term outcomes.
Children were followed up for an average of fourteen years in Denmark and nine years in the Netherlands, to analyse risks of death and of neurodevelopmental impairments (eg motor, cognitive, and socio- behavioural, and special educational needs). The findings are striking, reinforcing the severity of this condition with a high mortality risk for babies dying from invasive GBS infection. Compellingly, there are also serious consequences for some of the children who survive.
In Denmark, history of GBS infection in the first three months of life was associated with 1.8-fold increase in risk of neurodevelopmental impairment: 45 of the 969 children who survived the acute phase of the disease had moderate or severe neurodevelopmental impairment, such as motor impairment, by the age of 10. The risk was even higher in the Netherlands, where 36 of the 252 children with a history of invasive GBS infection needed special educational support by age 10, a more than two-fold risk.
Our study suggests that babies who recover from invasive GBS disease have increased risks of cognitive, motor, and behavioral impairments, which can impact their lives and their families. The long term effects on children was also evidenced by higher rates of hospitalisation for those who survived this infection. In Denmark, a nearly two-fold increase in outpatient visits was observed and a 1.3 fold increase in hospital admissions compared to children who did not develop GBS disease.Dr. Erzsébet Horváth-Puhó, an associate professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, and a lead author
Currently, the only available GBS infection prevention strategy is to provide antibiotic prophylaxis to women in labour whose newborn baby is at increased risk of developing GBS infection. However this strategy is not sufficient even in these two European countries and currently not adopted in settings with limited resources.
Even with the best medical care, such as is available for Dutch and Danish babies, survivors of GBS meningitis and also sepsis may be affected for life. The best way to protect these children is prevention of invasive GBS disease. We need better ways to identify at birth who is at risk, so prevention including with intrapartum antibiotics becomes more effective.Dr. Merijn Bijlsma, a paediatrician at Amsterdam University and a lead author
Every year hundreds of thousands of babies have GBS sepsis or meningitis, with a high mortality risk. Families in all continents are affected. Our study shows that GBS also affects educational potential for survivors. The global burden of disease is more than has previously been estimated, underlining the urgent need for prevention. Despite 30 years of research, maternal GBS vaccines currently are not yet available – a contrast to >100 COVID-19 vaccines in process within one year. We can and must deliver more for families affected by GBS all over the world.Professor Joy Lawn, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, senior author and Principal Investigator
The authors acknowledge study limitations including differences in the identification of children with GBS infection cases selection between the two countries. Importantly, these results from Denmark and the Netherlands reflect two high income European countries, and results in low and middle income countries may differ, hence data are needed from these contexts. Further research is needed as to why different children are affected differently. We know preterm birth is an important linked risk factor and more studies are needed to explore this association.
This is important new research showing that many more babies who have recovered from their group B Strep infection, including GBS sepsis, have long-term health issues as a result.
It is vital that steps are taken to stop group B Strep infection in babies – using test-based and risk-based prevent strategies that are available now and, longer-term, a maternal GBS vaccine. Both will save precious lives.Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive, Group B Strep Support
This study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address a key global data gap regarding GBS, and contribute vital information for the World Health Organization’s Report on GBS prevention, linked to the new Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis. The Dutch team was also supported by the Stichting Remmert Adriaan Laan Fonds.