Group B Strep During Pregnancy

What Is Group B Strep?
A Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection has little to do with strep throat or Group A Strep. Rather, it's an infection that 15-40% of healthy, adult women carry in their vaginal or rectal areas. A woman infected with GBS is said to be 'colonized' by the disease. As there are no symptoms indicating a woman has GBS, most women carry GBS unaware of the dangers it poses to their newborn.

What Does GBS Mean for my Newborn?
A GBS infection should be taken seriously - it's been acknowledged to be the number one cause of life threatening infections in newborns. A baby will become infected once it makes contact with the bacteria. GBS enters through the blood stream and can cause death, mental retardation or other serious diseases such as meningitis. Each year, approximately 12,000 babies catch GBS and the condition is fatal for 2,000 of those newborns. Not all babies of colonized mothers become infected: the chances of your baby contracting GBS are around three in a 1,000.

How Do I Find Out if I Have GBS?
Many doctors routinely screen for GBS, but you may want to ask your doctor if he hasn't screened for it. A culture sample is taken from the rectum or vagina and bacteria levels are read. You may want to test at two different points in time as GBS can register low levels one day and higher levels the next. This means that if you get a single negative test, you are not necessarily free of GBS concerns. You can also get tested at the time of delivery. A vaginal swab is taken and will identify women who carry large amounts of GBS. The higher the levels of GBS, the higher the risk for your newborn.

High Risk Situations
There are several high-risk situations that increase the likelihood of contracting GBS. These include: premature birth; a history of GBS in previous births; catching a fever before or during labor; and premature or prolonged rupture of membranes before delivery.

What if I Have GBS?
Doctors believe that not all women with GBS should be given antibiotics to treat against the disease - this would entail the potentially unnecessary treatment of a large number of women. Instead, treatment is focused on women with high levels of GBS or in high-risk situations. A doctor can decide to start antibiotic treatment during labor to protect your baby.

A Future Vaccine
Because even newborns with lower risk of contracting GBS do become afflicted, doctors are working for a vaccine to guard against infection. The vaccine would be administered to mothers and immunity would cross the placenta during pregnancy to protect the baby.

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