What is Group B Strep?
Group B Strep (heretofore known as GBS) is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found in the digestive tract and is used to aid in digestion. One in four pregnant women will be "colonized" at the time of delivery, meaning the bacteria has flourished and is prevalent in the digestive tract and birth canal.
About 25% of pregnant women carry GBS in colonized amounts in their digestive tracts and birth canals.
A pregnant woman who tests positive for GBS and gets antibiotics during labor has only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby with GBS disease.
She has a 1 in 200 chance if she does not get antibiotics during labor.
The chance of your baby contracting late-onset Group B Strep is 1 in 20,000 and is not changed by receiving antibiotics.
Causes of Group B Strep
You may carry GBS with or without symptoms. It can cause bladder infections in more severe cases, and can also cause vaginal itching and unusual discharge. If you are pregnant and are experiencing kidney infections or bladder infections, your doctor will perform a urine test for GBS and treat with antibiotics to reduce the colonization.
Your doctor will also test for GBS colonization between your 35th and 37th week of pregnancy. This test will show whether you are colonized at the time of delivery or not. While your status can change during that time, the test is as accurate as they are able to get at this point.
It is not known why some women carry Group B strep and others don't. The screening done in your third trimester will alert doctors that you are colonized and will take preventative measures to prevent the disease from spreading to your infant during birth.
Risks of Group B Strep
If your test comes back and you are Group B Strep positive, per the CDC guidelines, you will be given antibiotics during labor to reduce the colonization of GBS and the likelihood that your baby could develop complications from the bacteria. If you are GBS positive, you want your doctor to limit the amount of internal exams and monitoring since infection can be forced upward and infect the baby. The IV antibiotics are given every four hours during labor and will also be given for c-sections because the baby is still at risk.
From Birth to One Week, GBS infection is called Early Onset and is usually caused by colonization during labor. Group B Strep is the leading cause of meningitis in newborns during the first week of life.
From One Week to about Three Months, GBS infection is called Late Onset. This infection could come from many places, including from labor or from the baby coming into contact with someone who carries the bacteria.
There are some ways to prevent Late Onset GBS:
- Always wash your hands correctly (and thoroughly!) before holding the baby and after.
- Keep your fingernails short.
- If you have artificial fingernails, ditch them. They harbor all kinds of bacteria, not just GBS.
- Clean your jewelry well and often. Better yet, don't wear it.
- Breastfeed, if possible.
- Know the symptoms of GBS and get care immediately if your baby starts to exhibit any of them.
Symptoms of Group B Strep:
Group B Strep is a fast-moving infection and care should be taken to get medical attention quickly if you see any of these signs and symptoms.
- High-pitched cry, shrill moaning, whimpering
- Marked irritability, inconsolable crying
- Grunting as if constipated
- Projectile vomiting
- Feeds poorly or refuses to eat
- Sleeping too much, not waking for feedings
- High or low temperature; hands and feet may still feel cold even with a fever
- Blotchy, red, or tender skin
- Blue, gray, or pale skin due to lack of oxygen
- Fast, slow, or difficult breathing
- Body stiffening, uncontrollable jerking
- Listless, floppy, or not moving an arm or leg
- Tense or bulgy spot on top of head
- Blank stare
What Are Long-term Effects of Group B Strep Infection?
GBS manifests as sepsis (blood infection), meningitis, and pneumonia. It can cause babies to be miscarried, stillborn or die after being born. Long-term effects can be blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and other mental and physical chronic conditions.
Related Resources on Band Back Together:
Additional Resources for Group B Strep:
Group B Strep International: International organization devoted to raising awareness of Group B Strep and treatment.
CDC Group B Strep Home Page: Information from the Centers for Disease Control about Group B Strep.