Group B Strep Awareness Month

11th July 2023

July is group B strep awareness month which focuses on giving new and expectant parents more information about the disease and how it could affect their baby

Group B Strep Awareness Month

(Frank, pictured, survived Group B strep, although he did suffer after-effects)

GBS can cause infections such as sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. A small number (1 in 14) of babies who recover from GBS infection will have a long-term disability. A small number (1 in 19) of babies who develop an early-onset GBS infection unfortunately die. 

Although GBS infection can make a baby very unwell, most babies will make a full recovery with early treatment.  

Testing for group B strep is not routinely offered to all pregnant people in the UK. Testing is usually only offered if there was GBS found in a previous pregnancy. It is sometimes found by chance via swabs or urine tests for other reasons. 

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% of pregnant people carry the GBS bacteria, but the majority of babies born will not become ill with GBS disease.   

If a pregnant person who is carrying GBS in labour has a 50% chance that their baby will pick up the bacteria, the chance of the baby developing GBS disease is between 1 in 400 and 1 in 1,000 (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines on GBS). 

Babies who fall into certain groups have a higher risk of developing the disease: 

  • Preterm babies (especially before 35 weeks, but also before 37 weeks)
  • Fever during labour or if labour hasn’t started more than 24 hours after waters break
  • GBS found in urine
  • Previous child with GBS disease
  • Waters breaking before 37 weeks

Pregnant people who have either tested positive for GBS or their baby is classed as high risk for developing GBS will be advised to take antibiotics for at least four hours before their baby is born. Usually, the antibiotics will be offered intravenously. Parents will also be advised to have their baby monitored for 12 hours after delivery, usually in a hospital setting. 

About 60 – 70% of GBS disease is early onset. Early onset disease, which is usually septicaemia, occurs less than seven days after birth and is most likely due to infection being passed on from the parent before or during birth. 

Late onset disease, which is usually meningitis, develops between seven and 28 days after birth and is probably transmitted when babies come into contact with hands contaminated with GBS bacteria. 

Find out more about GBS and the signs and symptoms to look for in babies.

Group B Strep Support has more information for expectant parents.