Group B streptococcus (also known as Group B or GBS) is a type of bacteria that can often be found in the intestines or lower genital tract. In most healthy adults, it’s harmless. However, if a baby contracts it, it can cause a harmful and potentially fatal infection. This bacteria can lead to complications in pregnancy and delivery and can be a cause of infant mortality up to several months after birth. Knowing about this bacterial infection and its potential effects can help a new or expectant parent know how to protect their newborn. Here’s what you should know about Group B strep.
GBS And Pregnancy
Group B strep affects the pregnant parent first, and is actually a fairly common bacteria to have in one’s body. It is often found in the lower body and may also move to the placenta, the amniotic fluid or the membranous lining of the uterus during pregnancy. From there, it may be passed to the baby prior to or during delivery. About 25 percent of healthy adult women have this bacteria in their bodies, but only about 1 in 2,000 babies will be affected by it. It is not a sexually transmitted disease, and how it spreads from person to person is unclear since it’s not physically contagious and doesn’t spread through food or water.
Someone who is pregnant or who carries GBS in their body may find themselves at higher risk of transmitting it to their child if they:
- Go into labor prematurely (prior to week 37 of pregnancy)
- Experience membrane rupture (water breaking) 18 hours or more before delivery
- Have a fever during labor
- Contract a urinary tract infection (UTI) during pregnancy as a result of GBS
- Have already given birth to a baby with GBS
GBS In Newborns
A GBS infection in a baby can show up within about six hours of birth. This is known as early onset GBS. Symptoms of early onset GBS can include:
- Sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis
- Breathing or feeding problems
- Gastrointestinal or kidney problems
- Sluggishness or lethargy
A GBS infection can also develop in a newborn days to months after birth. This is known as late onset GBS. Symptoms of late onset GBS in a newborn can include:
- Coughing or congestion
- Feeding problems
GBS can be life-threatening to a newborn baby if sepsis or pneumonia occur. This is especially true if the baby is born prematurely or experiences other birth defects or complications. Additionally, GBS can cause health problems to develop later in life if it’s not treated early. Meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the brain which can harm brain development, is a contributing factor to these problems, which may include:
- Cerebral palsy, a disease that affects movement, balance and posture
- Hearing problems
- Learning problems
GBS doesn’t just affect babies, however. A GBS carrier may develop an infection if they are over the age of 65, immunocompromised or have a chronic disease like diabetes, HIV, cancer or liver disease.
A vaccine to protect against GBS does not currently exist, but doctors and researchers are working to develop one.
How GBS Is Treated
Doctors are well aware of the potential risks of GBS. However, this is still a topic that every person who is expecting should discuss with their doctor. Tests can be done to determine infection and transmission risk, and screenings usually take place during the third trimester of pregnancy, between weeks 35 and 37.
Usually, doctors will simply provide antibiotics during labor to prevent GBS from spreading to the baby. Antibiotics work to prevent the transmission of GBS during delivery, and usually do so with excellent results.
However, even these preventative measures are not guaranteed to prevent a newborn from contracting GBS. One in 200 babies contract a GBS infection if the person giving birth doesn’t receive antibiotics (though not all affected babies will become sick) and 1 in 4,000 babies will contract an infection even if they do receive antibiotics. Babies who end up displaying symptoms of GBS will need to receive intravenous antibiotics after birth in order to combat the bacteria. Without this treatment, GBS can potentially be fatal. However, most babies who receive treatment, whether the GBS condition appears early or late, will do fine.
We Can Help!
If you have questions about Group B strep or any other aspect of pregnancy, our doctors are here to help, and our gynecology services are comprehensive and thorough. We are open 7 days a week to help you along your wellness journey, and we take walk-ins. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!