A New Initiative to Protect Against GBS in Newborns

In recent months, group B streptococcus, or GBS, has taken a step into the limelight thanks to a partnership between the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the charity group, Group B Strep Support. In an effort to bring attention to the potential for newborns to develop an infection related to group B strep, a new leaflet will now be provided to women experiencing pregnancy for the first time. The joint initiative is meant to paint a clear picture of what group B strep is, how it impacts the mother and her child, and what can be done to prevent its negative effects on newborns.

Understanding GBS

Within the new leaflet, a vast amount of information is provided about what group B strep is – and what it isn’t – with the intent of providing clear, accurate guidance to mothers unaware of the potential issues that could arise with their child. GBS, per the leaflet, is a common bacterial bug carried in the gut, vagina, or urinary tract of an adult woman. Between two and four out of every ten women have the GBS bacteria present in their bodies, but most show no signs of it. Group B strep is not harmful to the mother, but it can cause serious infections in a newborn child when it is not treated during pregnancy or labour.

While GBS does have negative implications for newborn babies who contract an infection during birth, the rate of incident within the UK is relatively low. An estimated one in 1750 newborns is diagnosed with what is known as early-onset GBS infection, which can lead to devastating diagnoses of sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis. Fortunately, catching early-onset GBS infections in babies as soon as they show signs of being impacted by the bacteria allows for quick treatment to be administered and, in most cases, a full recovery.

Prevention and Recent Guidance

GBS in pregnant women is common, but in most cases, the transfer of the bacteria does not take place during pregnancy or birth. Because group B strep has a low chance of posing any health threats to most newborns, the UK and the NHS does not currently screen for the bacteria during a woman’s pregnancy on a routine basis. However, many feel as though group B strep deserves more attention among the medical community, especially for first-time mothers who may not know it exists.

According to a representative from a leading medical negligence expert team, the newly published leaflet is a step in the right direction, even though screening may not yet be required. Because it is being provided to all pregnant women carrying a child for the first time, the hope is that raising awareness of GBS and its potentially harmful effects on newborns will lead to a reduction in the negative effects a GBS infection may have on a young child.

As most women are uneducated about the risk factors, offering detailed information about group B strep in an easy to digest format like the new leaflet is critical to the health and well-being of pregnant women and their newborn children. Within the handout, pregnant mothers are provided a list of the circumstances in which developing a group B strep infection is more likely as a newborn, based on the health of the mother.

For instance, women who have a pre-term birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) have a greater risk of passing GBS on to their newborn. Similarly, having a high temperature during labour, or other signs of infection, increase the chances of early-onset GBS infection in a young child. Any positive urine or swab test for GBS during the pregnancy also makes the chance of a GBS infection at birth higher.

Even though group B strep infections in newborns have the potential to be harmful to children and emotionally exhausting for the new mother, there are methods to reduce the risks of GBS infection during labour.

First, pregnant women should be offered antibiotics via a drip during labour whey they have had a positive GBS swab or urine test at any time during the pregnancy. Similarly, antibiotics should be offered when pre-term labour takes place. Delivering these medications at the right time is critical to having a healthy newborn, and the education surrounding GBS is necessary to ensure this takes place with new mothers.

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