What is Group B Strep?

GBS During Pregnancy – What You Need to Know

Newborns are much more vulnerable than healthy adults to infections, which is why you might be hearing of concerns related to Group B Streptococcus (also known as Group B strep, baby strep, and GBS). This common bacterium is often carried in the intestines or lower genital tract of adults, and usually does not cause any symptoms. However, if you are pregnant there are things you need to know before labor and delivery that will help keep your newborn baby safe.

How Does Group B Strep Affect Infants?

It is estimated that 25% of pregnant mothers carry Group B strep during labor and delivery. Of these 25%, 1 in 200 untreated mothers will give birth to babies who are affected by Group B strep complications. However, when mothers are treated during labor with appropriate antibiotics, those rates of complications drop to just 1 in 4000 infants born who go on to develop Group B strep disease symptoms.

The bacteria known as Group B strep is responsible for two forms of Group B strep disease in infants, referred to as early-onset and late-onset.

Early-onset disease – This form is more common, and more dangerous for your newborn. Infants who are infected with this form of Group B strep disease often show signs of illness with 12 hours of birth, but early-onset is related to an infant that shows symptoms in the first week after birth. Some of these symptoms, often related to sepsis (an infection of the blood) and pneumonia, could include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Extreme fatigue or lethargy

Late-onset disease – This form of Group B strep occurs anywhere form the first week through the first three months of life after birth. Late-onset can cause meningitis, severe cellulitis, and can also lead to developmental disabilities, including deafness. Some of the warning signs of late-onset GBS disease include:

  • Coughing and congestion
  • Fever
  • Failure to thrive and eat well
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

What Can I Do To Prevent Group B Strep During Pregnancy?

Many adults often carry Group B strep without any signs or symptoms, and for those few who do have symptoms they are often unaware that GBS is the cause of their urinary tract or skin infection. This bacterium is not transmitted through sexual contact or food and drink, yet it is generally unclear how adults with GBS contract the bacteria. There is no cure or vaccine for GBS. However, during your pregnancy you do need to be aware that GBS can have serious implications for your newborn, but that there are also steps you can take to protect your baby.

  • You should be tested for GBS with a rectal or vaginal swab when you are between 35 and 37 weeks pregnant.
  • If you test positive you should receive antibiotics, such as penicillin, through an IV during labor.
  • If you have already tested posted during previous pregnancies, you should also receive the antibiotics during this labor, regardless of test results.
  • If you go into labor before 37 weeks (preterm), test positive for GBS during a urinalysis earlier in your pregnancy, or your water breaks more than 18 hours before delivery, you should receive antibiotics.

The antibiotics that you receive are only effective when given during labor because antibiotics taken before will have little to no impact on this quickly reproducing bacterium. It is a small step to take during labor, but one that can have tremendous impacts on the health of your newborn.

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