Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK and the most common cause of meningitis in babies under the age of three months. We have many touching case studies on our website, such as those of Elena and Frank where families have been affected by this disease at what should be the most joyous of times – have a read here.
What is GBS?
GBS disease is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus agalactiae, which usually live harmlessly in the intestinal tract or vagina.
It is estimated that up to 30% of pregnant women carry GBS bacteria, but the majority of babies born to these mothers will not become ill and most people build up natural immunity following carriage. Very few adults develop GBS disease.
The majority of GBS infection occurs in newborn babies as their immune systems have not had time to develop, allowing the bacteria to spread through the blood and cause serious illness such as meningitis, septicaemia or pneumonia.
Early onset and late onset
About 70% of GBS disease is early onset (less than seven days after birth). This is usually septicaemia 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.
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine to protect against GBS disease although research work is ongoing. Neither is there a national screening programme to routinely check all pregnant women to see if they are carrying GBS bacteria, although it is possible to be tested for it in late pregnancy.
Urgent medical attention
Babies with GBS need rapid admission to hospital and urgent treatment with antibiotics. As the signs and symptoms can be difficult to recognise in very young babies our advice is to trust your instincts as a parent and seek urgent medical attention if you suspect your child is ill.
Jane Plumb MBE, GBSS Chief Executive, said, “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.”
Help spread awareness
Tell everyone about Group B Strep using the hashtags #GBSAM18 and #groupBStrep and read more about GBS disease here.
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.