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What All Expecting Mothers Need to Know About Group B Strep

All too often, Group B Strep International (GBSI) hears from pregnant women and new parents who are trying to learn about group B strep (GBS) after their baby has already been infected. Unfortunately, many pregnant women receive little to no information about GBS or are told it is no big deal, which causes them to miss out on the opportunity to inform themselves and help protect their babies. 

GBS, one of the most notable causes of perinatal illness worldwide, is a naturally occurring type of bacteria found in both men and women. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women carry GBS. For most healthy adults, GBS has no symptoms or adverse effects, however, due to their underdeveloped immune systems, babies can be infected by GBS before birth through several months of age. 

GBS most commonly causes sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. Not all babies exposed to GBS become infected but, for those who do, the results can be devastating. GBS can cause babies to be miscarried, stillborn, or born prematurely, or become very sick, have lifelong handicaps, or die.

Testing

In the United States, a urine culture for GBS and other bacteria is routinely done at the first prenatal visit. If a woman’s urine culture tests positive for GBS, she should be considered GBS positive for this pregnancy and receive IV antibiotics for GBS when labor starts or her water breaks. It is now the standard of care in the United States for all pregnant women to be routinely tested for GBS during their 36th or 37th week during each pregnancy, unless their urine already cultured positive in the current pregnancy or they have had a previous baby with GBS disease. It is important to note that GBS colonization is transient, which means that a woman could test negative but be colonized later in pregnancy, and vice versa. 

All pregnant women should know about GBS. 

Detecting all types of GBS

While most perinatal health groups focus on early-onset GBS disease (within seven days after birth), GBSI strives to also shine light on late-onset (seven days after birth to several months of age) and prenatal-onset GBS disease (during pregnancy), which is not commonly recognized, and can cause miscarriages and stillbirth. The U.S. guidelines that address early-onset GBS disease prevention, for example, focus on preventing infection acquired during labor and delivery.

There are currently no official guidelines to prevent prenatal and late-onset GBS disease. However, knowledge-based strategies that may help prevent prenatal-onset include attention to any symptoms of bladder infection or vaginitis symptoms that can be caused by GBS; caution regarding invasive procedures; and knowledge that decreased or lack of fetal movement after your 20th week, frenzied movement, and any unexplained maternal fever can be signs of infection in an unborn baby. 

Regarding late-onset GBS disease, it is important that pregnant women and parents of newborns know the signs and symptoms of a GBS infection in their baby for prompt medical intervention. Late-onset disease is usually caused by horizontal transmission from the mother, but also can be acquired from hospital sources or individuals in the community. GBS is a fast-acting type of bacteria that can cause babies to become critically ill within a matter of hours. 

Raising awareness

In honor of July as International Group B Strep Awareness Month, GBSI is hosting the free online International Conference on Group B Strep (ICGBS) 2020 on July 20-22. The conference will include a variety of presentations, including updates on progress toward a maternal vaccine for GBS. 

We at GBSI hope that one day all medical professionals and parents will know how to help prevent all types of GBS infection, resulting in less suffering and more healthy babies worldwide.

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