Group B Streptococcus, more commonly known as Group B Strep (GBS), is a bacterium that can infect babies. This bacterium is commonly found in the vaginal or rectal area — which is why mothers who undergo vaginal delivery can pass it on to their baby.
Many people in the world carry group B strep bacteria. While it usually isn’t harmful to adults, it has the potential to cause harm to your baby. What Is Group B Strep?
The infection doesn’t have distinct symptoms, making it harder for mothers to know they may need treatment. However, most healthcare providers screen mothers at the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy for Group B strep per the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommendation.
What Are The Risks of GBS In Babies?
There are two types of Group B strep disease that can be found in babies:
- Early-onset Group B strep occurs during the baby’s first week of life. This Strep infection can manifest as pneumonia. This type of strep infection was quite common before ACOG began recommending treating the infection at the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy.
- Late-onset Group B strep manifests as meningitis and occurs during your baby’s first few months. Look for irritability and a bulging soft spot on the baby’s head.
Most newborns infected with Group B seem unaffected by it. However, a percentage of babies for reasons we do not understand develop severe infections that can lead to life-threatening complications of pneumonia and meningitis. In the U.S. an average of 930 babies get early-onset Group B and about 1,050 babies get late-onset Group B each year.
What Are The Symptoms You Should Look Out For?
It is rare to experience the symptoms of group B strep. While the elderly and those with medical conditions may have them, the best way for you to identify Group B is to have a culture of a vaginal swab for the bacterium.
However, babies infected with GBS have vague symptoms:
- Difficulty feeding
- Sleepiness, and
- Breathing problems
My experience is that when a fever is sometimes present, there is often difficulty breathing, and your baby may just seem to sleep constantly.
How do You Treat Group B Strep?
If your doctor finds traces of Group B, you will be treated with intravenous penicillin antibiotics every four hours during your labor and delivery. It is also likely that you will be given an oral antibiotic treatment if Group B is detected in your urinary tract. If you need to be treated for Group B, your baby should also be treated.
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
As a part of your prenatal care, you should be screened for Group B strep, even if not until you are 37 or 38 weeks pregnant. You need to talk with your doctor about whether your Group B should be treated early in your pregnancy or at the standard 37 to 38 weeks. Physicians have their own protocols for dealing with Group B in pregnancy and you should find out what your physician prefers.
Group B strep is the most common cause of neonatal death and it is both treatable and preventable.