Published Friday July 10, 2009
The Observer, La Grande, OR
Focus on Health
Tristin Mock, N.D.
Group B strep poses risk for newborns
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterium that can cause serious illness and death in newborns.
Approximately one quarter of women in the U.S. are carriers of the bacteria. These women often do not have symptoms, but can pass the infection on to their children during the birth process.
Group B strep is the most common life-threatening infection in newborns. It can be avoided, but there is no vaccine to prevent infection. GBS is more common than rubella, congenital syphilis, and spina bifida, yet many people have never heard of it. In 2001, around 1,700 newborns were infected.
Group B strep can infect and be carried by anyone. GBS is not the same infection as strep throat. It’s usually found in the gastrointestinal tract (guts) and can then spread to the vagina and rectum. GBS is not a sexually transmitted infection.
Most women are screened for group B strep during the 35th to 37th week of pregnancy. Infected women generally have no symptoms, although some may have a bladder infection. If the mother tests positive for GBS she will need IV antibiotics during labor to prevent passing the infection on to her child. The bacteria regrow rapidly, so antibiotics before labor are ineffective. According to the CDC, “a C-section should not be used to prevent early-onset group B strep infection in infants.”
Group B strep can be contracted at times other than birth, although the birth process is the most common time for transmission. Pre-natal transmission often leads to stillbirth. Late-onset cases can occur in children more than one week old. GBS can cause babies to catch pneumonia, get meningitis (inflammation of the brain), suffer sepsis (blood infection), have lifelong handicaps or die.
If you’re pregnant, please talk to your healthcare provider about testing for group B strep. Not all babies born to infected mother’s contract group B strep, but it is devastating for those who do.
For more information about group B strep please visit http://www.groupbstrep.org/ or http://www.groupbstrepinternational.org/.
Tristin Mock, N.D., is an Americorps VISTA volunteer with the Center for Human Development in La Grande.