Life

Ask the Expert: What are group B step infections and could they harm my baby?

I'm pregnant and I'm worried about group B strep infections

Q: I'M PREGNANT and have heard some scary stories about group B strep. What is it and how can I avoid my baby getting it?

A: Jane Plumb, chief executive of Group B Strep Support , says: "Group B strep can sound scary but when you know about it, you can take steps to protect your baby.

"Group B streptococcus (group B strep or strep B) is a common bacterium that lives in around a quarter of adults. In women, it's often found in the vagina and usually causes no harm or symptoms to the carrier.

"Although it's perfectly normal, group B strep causes serious infection in about 800 babies in the UK every year – typically sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis during their first three months of life. Without urgent antibiotics, these infections can be life-threatening.

"The good news is that most group B strep infection in newborn babies can be prevented. Giving intravenous (through a vein) antibiotics – ideally penicillin – from the start of labour to women who are carrying group B strep reduces the risk to the newborn baby by 85-90 per cent.

"Most developed countries offer pregnant women testing for group B strep and antibiotics are offered in labour to those who test positive.

"In the UK, there's no universal screening programme for group B strep, and the antibiotics are offered when any of the following risk factors arise: If you've previously had a baby who had GBS infection; if GBS has been detected from any tests taken during the current or previous pregnancy; if your labour starts before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy; or if you have a temperature of more than 38C during labour.

"If group B strep was detected in the previous pregnancy, a woman should be offered the option of testing in her next pregnancy, with the antibiotics then offered if the result is positive. This was a new recommendation in September 2017 and is not yet offered at all maternity units.

"If you don't qualify for a GBS test or your local maternity unit isn't able to offer the test (the ECM or enriched culture medium test), then these tests are available privately from £35 for a home-testing pack. We maintain a list of ECM test suppliers

"For more information about group B strep, ask your midwife for the new leaflet written by Group B Strep Support and the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists."

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