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Dr Anna Maw

Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Birth and Labour

Is my newborn at risk of Group B Streptococcus?

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have found that some newborn babies, who contract an infection during birth, are being treated too late. In fact, one in four babies with a bacterial infection in the early hours of their life will die as a result, even if they have been given antibiotics.
In Short
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is one of the major causes of still-births.

NICE recommends women potentially carrying the infection be better identified - since the infection of babies can be prevented in most cases.

Screening for GBS not currently offered on the NHS. At home kits are available, or tests at private clinics.

New recommendations and guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have been issued to help prevent the deaths and suffering caused by infections in newborns.

They have found that some newborn babies, who contract an infection during birth, are being treated too late. In fact, one in four babies with a bacterial infection in the early hours of their life will die as a result, even if they have been given antibiotics.

These bacterial infections include E Coli, Pseudomonas, Klebsiella and Group B streptococcus (GBS), all of which can be carried in the mother’s genital tract.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

About half of all men and women carry GBS, but it is considered harmless most of the time.

However, if newborns are infected with the bacteria, it can be very serious, causing disability and can even be fatal. It is also thought to be a major cause of stillbirths.

NICE recommends better identification of babies at risk of this type of infection at birth, and antibiotics for mothers during labour if they are thought to be likely to be carrying the potentially harmful bacteria.

Campaigners of the recommendations include Group B Strep Support (GBSS) who believe that the infection could be prevented in many cases; and therefore would like to see comprehensive information and advice about it added to a pregnant woman’s antenatal care, alongside the provision of a screening program for the infection through the NHS at 35-37 weeks.

GBS Testing

Currently, screening for GBS is not widely offered on the NHS, with current guidelines focused on using a ‘risk factor’ approach to determining which women are at risk.

However, there are three methods of testing currently available:

  • Standard Direct Plating Method.
  • Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) Method.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Method.

There are a number of websites that provide home testing kits, which process the swaps and send the results and cost around £35.

In addition to this, there are also private clinics that offering the testing, and these can vary between clinics.

Faster Diagnosis and Treatment

With all suspected bacterial infections, Nice believe a faster diagnosis is of paramount importance as is the provision of immediate antibiotics treatment, with newborns receiving the drugs within an hour of a diagnosis being made.

“Early-onset neonatal infection can be very serious and, at present, there is much variation in how it is managed, with sometimes unnecessary delays in recognising and treating sick babies“, said Professor Mark Baker, director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at Nice.

Image Credit: Crincon @ Flickr

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.