International Group B Strep Awareness Month

What is Group B Strep?

Group B Streptococcus (GBS), or Streptococcus agalactiae, is a type of bacteria that is naturally found in the digestive tract and birth canal in up to 1 in 4 pregnant women. Unfortunately, babies can be infected by GBS before birth and up to about 6 months of age due to their underdeveloped immune systems.Group B Strep

Prenatal-onset GBS Disease (before birth)

  1. Urine culturing for GBS — When a pregnant woman has GBS in her urine (GBS bacteriuria), it means that she is likely to be heavily colonized vaginally where it can be moved closer to her baby. GBS bacteriuria is also known to put babies at greater risk for early-onset disease and the risk of preterm birth and rupture of the protective bag of water surrounding the baby can be doubled when there is a significant amount of GBS in urine. The following study shows that the risks of prematurity  and premature rupture of membranes were reduced by penicillin treatment (at time of diagnosis) with continued follow-up, and retreatment if necessary
  2. Prompt attention to vaginal infections — GBS can cause vaginitis symptoms such as external vaginal burning and/or irritation as well as unusual discharge.  These symptoms may be mistaken for a yeast infection and treated incorrectly.
  3. Use caution regarding invasive procedures and avoid membrane stripping — GBS can cross intact membranes and invasive procedures can help transport GBS closer to the baby.

Early-onset GBS Disease (birth-first week of life)

GBS infections which occur within the first week of life are called “early-onset” GBS disease.   In 2002, the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommended that all pregnant women should be screened for GBS (“universal screening”) and, if positive, given IV antibiotics during labor and delivery to help prevent early-onset GBS disease. Fortunately, this has resulted in a drastic decline in the incidence of GBS infections within the first week of life. However,  group B strep remains the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns in the United States of America.

Other countries that have implemented universal screening for GBS colonization during pregnancy include Canada, Argentina, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

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Late-onset GBS Disease (1 week-several months of life)

Late-onset GBS disease occurs in babies over 1 week of age up to several months old. Babies can become infected with GBS by sources other than the mother. There are currently no prevention protocols in place to help prevent late-onset GBS disease. However, being able to recognize the symptoms of GBS infection in babies is imperative for prompt medical treatment for better outcomes. GBS is a very fast-acting type of bacteria and an otherwise healthy-appearing baby can become critically ill within a matter of hours.

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