Group B Strep Awareness Month (International)
Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office
July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B Strep (GBS) is one of the most common causes of life-threatening infections in newborns. GBS is a bacterial infection which can easily pass from a mother to her baby during delivery. It can also infect babies in the womb, or within the first few months after birth.
About one in four pregnant women carry the bacteria that cause GBS. Most infected women don't realize they carry the bacteria. GBS bacteria are among the many common bacteria that live in the digestive tract; in women GBS can live in the genital tract. It is not transmitted by sexual contact.
Babies can be exposed to Group B Strep while passing through the birth canal or when the mother's water breaks. There is also evidence that GBS can expose a baby while it is still in the womb, causing preterm births, stillbirths or miscarriages.
If a woman carries the bacteria, there is a 50% chance she will pass it on to her infant if antibiotics are not given during delivery. About 8,000 babies in the United States contract serious GBS disease each year, and about 10% die from it. Another 20% are left with permanent disabilities. Premature infants are more vulnerable to the infection than full term infants and are more likely to suffer from complications.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends universal screening of all pregnant women for Group B Strep. The guidelines recommend screening pregnant women at 35-37 weeks with a strep culture, and the use of antibiotics during delivery for women who test positive for Group B Strep. A rapid DNA-based test can be used for women in labor who have not been previously tested, but it is not as sensitive as the culture test.
The majority of the cases of GBS disease among newborns occur in the first week of life. Most of these babies fall ill within a few hours after birth. Newborns with GBS disease may have one or more of the following symptoms:
Problems with temperature regulation
Stiffness or extreme limpness
GBS disease may also develop in infants one week to several months after birth, or "late onset" GBS disease. About half of these infants contract GBS disease from their mothers; in the other half, the source of the infection is unknown. A baby who develops late onset GBS disease exhibits many of the same symptoms as newborns with GBS, and may also become inconsolable and refuse to feed. Infants displaying these symptoms should be taken for immediate medical evaluation.
If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare professional about testing for GBS. If the test is not offered, you should request it. Ask to be tested for GBS during pregnancy, discuss treatment plans and the use of antibiotics during labor with your doctor if you test positive, and tell your baby's pediatrician about your result.
Group B Strep International http://www.groupbstrepinternational.org
CDC Website: Group B Strep http://www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep/
Group B Strep Association, Canada http://www.strepb.ca/
The American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.aap.org/