Hey there! Today, I want to talk with you a bit about something called Group B Strep.
The US National Health Observance Calendar recognizes July as Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a fast-acting bacteria that can be found in the birth canal and digestive tract of approximately 1 in 4 pregnant people. GBS is the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns, according to the CDC. Not all babies exposed to GBS will contract it, but it can be fatal for those who do.
How do babies get Group B Strep?
There are a few ways babies can contract GBS. The first is Prenatal-onset GBS. This means that before it is born, the baby contracts the GBS virus while still in the womb. This can happen when a mother who is GBS positive has her membranes stripped, or develops a high, undetected amniotic leak. GBS, when greatly concentrated, is sometimes able to cross over intact membranes. GBS can often present itself as a severe yeast infection, but can be detected in a urine test if there is enough of the bacteria present.
This study shows that the risks of premature delivery and premature rupture of membranes were reduced by penicillin treatment (at time of GBS diagnosis) with continued follow-up, and re-treatment if necessary.
The second way a baby can contract a GBS infection is through delivery. The CDC recommends that every pregnant person undergo a standard third trimester screening for GBS, and if positive, they should receive antibiotics via IV during labor to help prevent the spread of the infection. This IV treatment has proven over time (since 2002) to drastically reduce the rates of infants who contract GBS during delivery.
The last way a baby can contract a GBS infection is called Late-onset GBS Disease. This can happen any time between 8 days and 6 months old, and would be contracted from an outside source. There is no current treatment in place to prevent Late-onset GBS. However, preventative measures can be taken to help reduce risk. This includes having everyone wash their hands thoroughly before touching your baby, making sure no one sick is near your baby, and making sure everyone who will be caring for your child know the symptoms of GBS.
If you are concerned about your baby and Group B Strep, call your doctor.
What should I watch my baby for if I am GPS positive?
If you are GBS positive at the time of delivery, your medical care providers will be watching your baby closely. You can watch, too! The more eyes, the better. Some symptoms to watch your newborn for include:
•high-pitched crying, shrill moaning, and whimpering
• Marked irritability, inconsolable crying
• Constant grunting, as if constipated
• Projectile vomiting
• Feeding poorly or refuses to eat, not waking for feedings
• Sleeping too much, or difficulty being aroused
• Fever or low or unstable 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
• Infection (pus/red skin) at base of umbilical cord or in puncture on head from internal fetal monitor
If you notice any of these signs in your newborn, contact your care provider immediately. GBS is a fast-moving disease and the symptoms can appear suddenly.
What can I do to prevent my baby from getting Group B Strep?
Now that you know the various ways Group B Strep can be contracted by your baby, and the symptoms to look for, how can you help? GBS can seem scary, but there are some pretty simple ways you can minimize your baby’s risk.
First, get tested for the GBS virus. It will sometimes show up in a urine culture, but the standard test is done in the late 3rd trimester. It involves a simple, painless cotton swab of the vaginal and perineal area. The typical antibiotic treatment during labor is penicillin based, but they make an alternative treatment for those who are allergic to penicillin-based medications (like me!). This antibiotic treatment in labor has proven extremely effective in reducing the risk of transmission.
The second way you can help is by educating yourself about GBS- the signs, symptoms, and results that this disease can have on infants and adults with weak immune systems. By being aware, you can spot GBS early, which allows for fast, early treatment. And fast treatment means a better chance at a positive outcome!
Awareness is Important!
The last way you can help is to spread awareness. Check out the Group B Strep International awareness page, and pass along the valuable information to expecting families in your social circle. One voice for awareness may help change the outcome for a few, but a thousand voices can change the world.