Group B Strep Awareness Month

It’s Group B Strep (GBS) Awareness Month – did you know that many of us (up to 2 in 5!) have GBS in our body without even knowing it? That’s because it’s normally harmless and you won’t even know you have it.

Having it can sometimes cause problems if you’re pregnant as it can spread to the baby, and so we thought we would arm you with some facts and ways to reduce any risks. It’s important to point out that it rarely causes problems and infections are preventable with the right treatment. 

Key Points

  • Group B strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria – it’s very common and up to 2 in 5 people have it in their body.
  • GBS is common in pregnant women and rarely causes any problems.

If you do have Group B strep:

  • There is a small risk that Group B strep can make babies poorly (around 1 in 1,750 pregnancies) and also an extremely small risk of miscarriage.
  • If babies do become poorly, most will recover fully with prompt treatment of antibiotics.
  • Most early on-set GBS infections are preventable.
  • Sadly though, sometimes babies with early-onset GBS die (1 in 19), and some of those who survive will have a long-term disability (1 in 14).

Reducing the Risks

  • Speak to your GP or maternity team about getting a test.
    GBS is sometimes found during pregnancy when you have vaginal or rectal swabs, or a urine test. The NHS does not currently offer routine screening for GBS. As carrying it has no symptoms, having a test is the only way to find out if you are carrying it. GBS Support offers information on testing.

If you do have GBS:

  • If you are GBS-positive, you should be offered antibiotics through a drip during labour.
  • If you have a urine infection caused by a GBS infection then you should be treated with antibiotics immediately and offered a drip of antibiotics in labour.
  • If your waters break after 37 weeks then you will be offered an induction of labour to reduce the amount of time the baby is exposed to GBS.

In general:

  • If your waters break before 37 weeks you should be offered an antibiotic drip even if you are not known to carry GBS. This is preventative.
  • If you develop any signs of infection during labour, you will also be offered an antibiotic drip.

Nicky’s Story

“One of my friends told me to have the Strep B test done and I had never heard of it before. I wasn’t sure what it was but when I read up about it I realised how important it was and when I tested positive I was so thankful I’d had the test. 

I was disappointed I couldn’t go to a midwife led unit to give birth but it was more important that myself and baby were ok. It meant I had to have antibiotics throughout labour and afterwards and when healthy baby Hattie was born she had antibiotics too for a short while. I was lucky someone told me.”

GBS in Pregnancy

If you have GBS whilst you’re pregnant, your baby will usually be healthy. You will usually find out if you are carrying GBS when you have a vaginal or rectal swab, or a urine test.

You can discuss your options with your maternity team if you are found to be carrying GBS or if you’re concerned that you may have it. This also includes talking to your maternity team or GP about having a test, as routine screening is not currently offered by the NHS.

GBS in Birth

If you do have GBS then you need to make sure your place of birth will have access to antibiotics to be given during labour by drip. This may be hospital, but it will depend on what your local hospital can offer, and your midwife will be able to support you in your wishes.

You may be advised to contact your midwife as soon as your waters break. You may also need to stay in hospital with your baby for at least 12 hours after giving birth – this is so your baby can be monitored.

GBS After Your Baby is Born

If you did have GBS during pregnancy, there is a small risk that this could be passed to your baby. This will usually happen soon after the baby is born, if it does happen, and is known as early-onset GBS.

Your baby will be monitored for 12 hours after they have been born to check if there are any problems, and if they develop symptoms they will be given antibiotics and looked after by the healthcare team.

When you have left hospital:

Sometimes symptoms in babies can develop up to 3 months they have been born, and so it’s useful to know what to look for.

You should 999 or go to A&E if your baby:

  • Is floppy or unresponsive
  • Is grunting when breathing
  • Has an unusually high or low temperature
  • Has very fast or very slow breathing
  • Has a very fast or slow heart rate

In summary

Most people do carry GBS, and it’s common in pregnant women and rarely causes problems. You can be tested for GBS, but this is not commonly offered by the NHS – you can ask your maternity team if you are concerned.

If you do have GBS, your maternity team will look after you and discuss your options with you to reduce risks to your baby.

Sources

RCOG & GBS Support – Group B Strep in Pregnancy and Newborns Leaflet

NHS – Group B Strep

RCOG – GBS in Pregnancy and Newborn Babies 

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