July is known as International Group B Strep Awareness Month. It’s important to bring awareness to a disease that can be caught from pregnancy into infancy for your newborn baby.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS), or Streptococcus agalactiae, is a type of bacteria that is naturally found in the digestive and lower reproductive tracts of men and women. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women carry GBS, and this bacteria. Unfortunately, this bacteria can be very dangerous to babies both before birth and up to 6 months of age due to their underdeveloped immune systems.
Can you imagine that 1 in 4 pregnancies carry this GBS bacteria?? Not every mother who carries the GBS bacteria infect their fetus/infant, but the ones who pass on the GBS bacteria to their infant can be detrimental. GBS can cause babies to be miscarried, stillborn, born prematurely, become very sick, have lifelong handicaps, or die. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) GBS is the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns. Even babies born to a mother who test negative can become infected by group B strep.
How can we detect GBS and prevent transmission to our baby?
Although most women do not have any symptoms, GBS can cause vaginal burning, vaginal irritation and unusual discharge which may be mistaken for a yeast infection and treated incorrectly. (1) If you have “vaginitis” symptoms, see your care provider promptly for an exam and possible GBS testing.
GBS can also cause bladder infections, with or without symptoms. Your provider should do a urine culture for GBS and other types of bacteria (this is not the standard prenatal urine “dipstick” check) at the first prenatal visit. GBS in your urine means that you are likely heavily colonized vaginally which puts your baby at greater risk. (2) If your urine tests positive, your provider should consider you to be GBS positive for this pregnancy so that you receive IV antibiotics for GBS when labor starts or your water breaks.
It is now the standard of care in the US for all pregnant women to be routinely tested for GBS between 36 and 37 weeks of each pregnancy unless their urine already cultured positive in the current pregnancy. (Since levels of GBS can change, each pregnancy can be different.) Your provider will perform a swab test of both your vagina and rectum and receive the test results in 2–3 days. Inform your provider if you are using antibiotics or vaginal medications which may cause false negative results.(3)
How can GBS affect my baby?
- GBS can infect your baby even before your water breaks. GBS infections before birth are called “prenatal-onset.” [Visit our past symposium on prenatal-onset GBS disease to learn more]
- GBS can cause preterm labor, causing your baby to be born too early.
- GBS infection can also cause your water to break prematurely without labor starting, causing your baby to lose a significant layer of protection.
- It is thought that babies are most often infected with GBS as they pass through the birth canal. GBS infections within the first six days of life are called “early-onset.”
- Babies can become infected with GBS by sources other than the mother. GBS infections occurring between 7 days to 3 months of age are called “late-onset.” Although less common, “very-late-onset” may occur after 3 months of age.
When the PROs outweigh the CONS, you should know which side to take, or do you?
Go with the PRO….but educate, educate, EDUCATE yourself!