Group B Streptococcus (group B strep, GBS) is a type of bacteria often found in the urinary tract, digestive system, and reproductive tracts of the body. Generally, bacteria comes and goes from our bodies frequently, so most people who have it don’t know that they do. GBS doesn’t cause health problems until you’re expecting or elderly with some medical conditions.
Problems That Group B Strep Cause
Health problems from GBS are not pretty common but it can cause illness in some people and can cause infections in such areas of the body as the blood, lungs, skin, or bones.
About 1 out of every 4 women experience GBS although, in pregnant women, GBS can cause infection of the urinary tract, placenta, womb, and amniotic fluid which sometimes affects the baby.
Even if they haven’t had any symptoms of infection, a pregnant woman can pass GBS to their child during labor and delivery. (American Pregnancy, 2021)
How Does Group B Strep Affect Babies?
When women with GBS are treated with antibiotics during labor, most of their babies do not have any problems, but some of the babies can become very sick. Premature babies are more likely to be infected with GBS than full-term babies because their bodies and immune systems are less developed.
The two types of GBS disease that can be found in babies are as follows:
Early-onset infections, which happen during the first week post-delivery. Babies often have symptoms within 24-48 hours of birth.
Late-onset infections, which develop weeks to months post-delivery. This type of GBS disease is not well understood and normally hard to confirm.
Signs and Symptoms of GBS Disease
Newborns and infants with GBS disease might show a few of these signs:
- Frequent fever
- Refuse to feed or issues during feeding
- Breathing problems and coughing during breathing
- Irritability or fussiness
- Inactivity during daily routine
- Trouble keeping a healthy body temperature
Babies with GBS disease can develop serious problems, such as:
- Meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining around the brain). Meningitis is more common with late-onset GBS disease and, in some cases, it can even lead to hearing and vision loss, learning disabilities, seizures, and even worse. (CDC, 2021)
Diagnose – Group B Strep
Pregnant women are routinely tested for GBS during their last trimester in the pregnancy, usually between weeks 35 to 39. The test is simple, inexpensive, and painless. Called a culture, it involves using a large cotton swab to collect samples from the vagina and test it in a lab to check for GBS. The results are usually available in the next 2 to 3 days.
If a test finds GBS, the woman is said to be GBS positive, this means only she has bacteria in her body — not that she or her baby will become sick or further affected from it.
GBS infection in babies is diagnosed by testing a sample of blood; however, not all babies born to GBS-positive mothers need testing. Most healthy babies are simply watched and observed to see if they have signs of infection.
How is Group B Strep Treated?
A gynecologist tests a pregnant woman to see if the mother has GBS or the possibility of it and if she does, will get an intravenous (IV) antibiotic protocol during labor to kill the bacteria.
Doctors normally use penicillin but can consider other medicines if a woman is allergic to it.
A woman should get antibiotics for at least 4 hours before delivery, this simple step greatly helps to prevent the spread of GBS to the baby.
In case of emergency, doctors might give antibiotics during labor to a pregnant woman if she:
- Goes into labor prematurely, before being tested for GBS
- Hasn’t been tested for GBS and her water breaks 18 or more hours before delivery
- Hasn’t been tested for GBS and has a fever during labor
- Had a GBS bladder infection during the pregnancy
- Had a baby before with GBS disease
Giving antibiotics during labor helps to prevent early-onset GBS disease and the cause of the late-onset disease isn’t known, so no method has yet been found to prevent it.
Researchers are still working to develop a vaccine to prevent GBS infection.
Babies who get GBS disease are treated with antibiotics which are started as soon as possible to help prevent problems post-delivery. These babies also may need other treatments, like breathing help and IV fluids. (Group B Strep, 2021)
How Can I Help Prevent Group B Strep Infection?
Because GBS comes and goes from the body, experts highly recommend for each woman to get GBS testing during every pregnancy. And those who are GBS-positive should get antibiotics at the right time during labor so they don’t pass the infection to their babies.
If you are GBS-positive and begin to go into labor, please go to the hospital is the safest place to have your baby. By getting IV antibiotics for at least 4 hours before delivery, you will help protect your baby against early-onset GBS disease.
“Group b Strep Infection: Gbs.” American Pregnancy Association, 16 July 2021, americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-complications/group-b-strep-infection
“Group b Strep.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 June 2021, www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep/index.html
“October Is Prenatal-Onset Gbs Disease RECOGNITION MONTH.” Group B Strep International, June 2021, www.groupbstrepinternational.org/october-is-prenatal-onset-gbs-disease-recogntion-month.html