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What is Group B Streptococcus?


Group B streptococcus (also known as group B strep or GBS) is a type of bacteria that men and women both carry normally. About 25% of women carry it in their vaginas, and although it's harmless and symptomless, it can become a problem during labor and delivery, because it can be transmitted to the baby. GBS is thought to be the most common cause of bacterial infection of newborns, and in 90% of cases it becomes apparent in the first 12 hours after birth. It doesn't develop in all babies whose moms have GBS at the time of delivery, but in rare cases it can be fatal.

There's currently no nationwide screening programme for GBS, so many moms-to-be won't know they have it unless they've had a vaginal swab test for something else or it's been picked up in their urine – in which case it should have been treated with antibiotics at the time. Also, it's not always active, so even if a swab test does come back negative, it doesn't necessarily mean GBS won't be present during the birth. You're more at risk of infecting your baby with GBS if:

  • your labor is premature (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • you have a raised temperature in labor
  • your waters break 18 hours or more before delivery
  • you've previously had a baby infected with GBS
  • GBS has been discovered in your vagina during a routine test
  • GBS has been found in your urine.

What are the symptoms of Group B streptococcus?

The condition is symptomless in adults, but if it develops in babies, symptoms include: grunting; irritability; listlessness; low blood pressure; high or low temperature, heart rate or breathing rate. 'Late onset' GBS, which is rare and develops when baby is 6 days to 3 months old, usually develops as meningitis with septicaemia.

What are the treatments and remedies of Group B streptococcus?

If an expectant mom is found to have GBS in her vagina, the normal treatment is intravenous antibiotics (given through a vein) from when labor begins or her waters break until delivery. This prevents infection of the baby in the vast majority of cases. Depending on the individual case, the newborn may be given intravenous antibiotics too.

This guide

This article is not meant to substitute medical advice provided by a practicing medical professional - if you have any concerns, contact your physician immediately.

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