How Can Group B Strep
July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month, making now a good time to raise awareness of how to protect a baby from group B streptococcus (also known as group B strep or GBS) during labor and delivery. About 25 percent of pregnant women carry GBS. If GBS passes from a mother to her baby during labor and birth, the baby may become infected and develop potentially life-threatening complications.
Fortunately, if a pregnant woman with GBS receives proper treatment during labor and birth, she can help protect her baby from contracting GBS and its potential complications.
What Is GBS?
GBS is a common type of bacteria that people frequently carry in their digestive, reproductive, or urinary tracts. In adults, GBS often causes no negative health effects. Many people carry GBS and don’t know it. However, it can cause infections in adults, such as a bladder or urinary tract infection.
How Does GBS Affect a Newborn?
A mother who carries GBS can pass it to her baby as the baby moves through the birth canal. Only a small percentage of babies who are exposed to GBS during childbirth develop a GBS infection.
There are two types of GBS infections in newborns:
- Early onset GBS infections are the result of infection during childbirth and occur within one week of birth. Certain factors—including the premature birth of the baby, the rupture of the mother’s membranes 18 or more hours before delivery, a maternal fever of 100.4 F or higher during labor, a urinary tract infection in the mother caused by GBS during pregnancy, and the mother having a previous baby with GBS infection—increase a newborn’s risk of early-onset GBS infection.
- Late-onset infections can develop within a week to 3 months after birth. Late-onset GBS infections in infants may be passed from mother to baby during childbirth, or infection may come through the baby’s contact after birth with other people who have GBS.
What Complications Can GBS Cause in Newborns?
GBS can cause pneumonia (lung infection), sepsis (blood infection), and meningitis (infection of the fluid and linings around the brain and spinal cord). Although most babies who are treated for GBS infection do well, some do not survive. Babies whose GBS infection leads to meningitis may develop long-term problems, including seizures, learning and hearing problems, and cerebral palsy.
How Can GBS Infections in Newborns Be Prevented?
Fortunately, most cases of GBS infection in newborns are preventable with maternal testing and proper treatment. A pregnant woman should be tested for GBS at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. To test for GBS, a healthcare professional uses a swab to collect a sample from the vagina and rectum. If a woman tests positive for GBS, she is usually treated with antibiotics during labor to prevent early-onset GBS infection in her newborn. A woman who has had a previous baby with GBS infection or who has had GBS in her urine during pregnancy also should receive antibiotics during labor.
GBS testing during pregnancy and antibiotic treatment during labor does not prevent late-onset GBS infection in newborns. Because the causes of late-onset GBS infection are often unknown, there is currently no known method of preventing late-onset GBS infection.
What’s a Reliable Resource of GBS Information for Patients?
Childbirth Graphics’ Group B Streptocococcus (GBS) Tear Pad is a great patient handout that provides simple, accurate information to help pregnant women protect their newborns from GBS. Our 100-sheet tear pad features English text on one side, Spanish text on the other, and additional space for specific healthcare professional instructions.
enhances patient understanding.
The tear pad explains what GBS is, its symptoms in newborns, and its potentially devastating complications. Easy-to-understand text also explains GBS testing, what to do when you test positive for GBS, and what to do if your labor begins prior to being tested for GBS.
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