What is Group B Strep?

Group B Strep (GBS) is the most common cause of infection in newborn babies. GBS is a normally symptom-free bacterium present in up to 40% of all women.

The Group B Strep is harbored in the vaginal and rectal tracts. When this bacterium goes undetected and untreated, it is the main cause of blood infections, pneumonia, and meningitis in newborns. If the mother is a carrier, she can pass the disease on to her baby during the delivery process. Group B Strep should not be confused with Group A Strep that causes strep throat, scarlet fever, and some other types of pneumonia.

Those at Risk for Group B Strep

In addition to pregnant women and infants, others who are particularly susceptible to the GBS bacteria are the elderly and those who are already ill (such as patients with diabetes, kidney and liver disease). Since there are usually no symptoms, a pregnant woman may not even realize she has Group B Strep, so routine testing for the presence of the bacteria is imperative. Group B Strep is not consistent in its presence, so it is necessary for the pregnant woman to be tested closer to her due date, preferably between the 35th to the 37th week, when the result is the most accurate.

A simple and painless swab test is given. Samples (swabs) are taken from the vagina and rectum and are cultured. If the results are negative, this test can eliminate any fear of transmitting GBS during delivery. However, if GBS is found during testing, antibiotics given prior to the delivery greatly reduce the chance for the GBS to infect the newborn infant. The antibiotics are given intravenously. In some cases, the newborn is also treated with antibiotics. However, most doctors do prefer to wait and see if the newborn develops any symptoms prior to medicating.

Symptoms and Complications of Group B Strep

Symptoms suggestive of maternal GBS include fever, premature labor, or premature rupture of the membrane. Symptoms suggesting a Group B Strep infection in a newborn include elevated fever, listlessness, and seizures. Heart-related problems—such as low heart rate, unusual blood pressure readings, difficulty breathing, or feeding problems—may be present. Premature infants have a higher chance of infection. Left unchecked, GBS can cause dangerous and potentially fatal infections in newborns, including sepsis, meningitis, or pneumonia.

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to the infection. This reaction can spread throughout the whole body and can lead to organ failure. People with weakened immune systems are most susceptible. Their immune system may have been weakened because of such diseases as diabetes, liver failure, kidney failure, or HIV/AIDS. Newborns are at risk because of their underdeveloped immune system.

Meningitis can occur (most often between the ages of newborn and two years) when infected by the Group B Strep. Meningitis is a membrane infection and inflammation of the fluid and sacs around the brain and spinal cord. It must be treated quickly to decrease the risk of major damage.

Bacterial pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Respiratory failure can occur when breathing becomes difficult as the body works harder to absorb oxygen and to eliminate carbon dioxide in the blood. It is critically important that all of these diseases be treated quickly to avoid complications and death from Group B Strep. For more information check out the following sites.