July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, an annual campaign to highlight the importance of group B Strep awareness, education and research
We’re happy to support the week, organised by the charity Group B Strep Support, which aims to get as many people as possible involved in raising awareness.
Sadly, many families first hear about group B Strep after their baby is seriously ill with GBS meningitis, sepsis or pneumonia. It is the main cause of meningitis in babies but very few adults develop GBS disease.
According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, about 43 babies develop early-onset GBS infection in the UK every month. Of these 38 will make a full recovery; three survive with long-term physical or mental disabilities and sadly two will die from the infection.
Hunter is one who has, thankfully, made a good recovery from the disease. His mum Sofia told us she went into hospital for a normal birth, but then had to be given an emergency C-section:
“I had to be put to sleep to be woken and told my beautiful boy was born but that I couldn’t see him as he was very poorly.
“I had no idea what this infection was, so I asked all sorts of questions. What is that? Was it something I did? Is it my fault? They explained that every woman is likely to carry the GBS bacteria at some point in their life. It’s harmless unless you are pregnant and give birth – if you are pregnant and your waters break and the infection reaches your baby, all different symptoms can occur, including sepsis and in the worst case, meningitis.
It can happen to anyone
“This isn't something my midwives told me about, why? Because its infection rate isn't that high... well, I believe if it happened to me it can happen to anyone. I was also told you can have this test privately. It's a little swab and it’s harmless. I wish I was told about it and wish there was more awareness of this infection.
“Thankfully this infection reached my boy straight away. If I had taken him home, he would not be here today.”
You can read more on Hunter’s story here.
Caused by bacteria
GBS disease is caused by the Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria, which usually live harmlessly in the intestinal tract or vagina.
It is estimated that up to 30 per cent of pregnant women carry the GBS bacteria, but the majority of babies born to these mothers will not become ill with GBS disease.
About 60 to 70 per cent of the infection occurs in newborn babies less than seven days after birth and is most likely due to infection being passed on from the mother before or during birth.
Late onset disease (between seven and 28 days after birth), which is usually meningitis, is probably transmitted when babies come into contact with hands contaminated with GBS bacteria.
Currently there is no vaccine to protect against GBS disease and no national screening programme to routinely check all pregnant women to see if they are carrying GBS bacteria.
Important to inform pregnant women
Jane Blewitt, our Information and Assessment Nurse, said, “One important thing to promote is that the GBS guidelines produced by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that all pregnant women should be given information about group B Strep.
“Knowing about group B Strep when you’re pregnant and in the early weeks after birth can make a massive difference – most group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be prevented and early treatment can and does save lives.”
There’s more information in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists patient information factsheet.
Don’t face meningitis alone. If you’ve had an experience of group B Strep and would like further information get in touch with our Helpline – call 0808 80 10 388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about group B Streptococcus here.