Group B Streptococcus
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Group B Streptococcus (more commonly referred to as Group B Strep or GBS) is a condition that many women have received confusing information on, or no information at all. Routine checks are not standard in the UK although some hospitals do still provide them. You may or may not be given advice on GBS by your midwife, so ask about it if you feel you need to know more about the policy at your hospital.
What is GBS?
Commonly referred to as Group B Strep, GBS is a bacteria present in many women's (and men's) bodies. Most people develop immunity to Strep B quite quickly, and it is normally only newborn babies who are at risk from infection because of their underdeveloped immune system.
In women, the GBS bacteria are often found in the vagina, and it is during labour or birth that babies therefore come into contact with it. A GBS infection in babies can lead to serious infections such as meningitis or pneumonia.
How do people get GBS? Is it an STD?
The GBS bacteria are naturally occurring and are found in around 20% of all pregnant women in the UK. It is commonly found in the vagina but it is not transmitted sexually. The idea that GBS infections are sexually transmitted is a myth.
How do I know if I have GBS?
Screening for GBS is not provided routinely on the NHS, although it can be paid for privately and there are some situations in which your hospital or GP will test you. There are several reasons why screening is not routine:
- Screening results are not accurate. Women tested positive for GBS at 37 weeks are often not carrying the GBS bacteria at the time they give birth and vice versa.
- Most deaths and long term problems from GBS occur in babies born prematurely, before the screening would take place.
- Most long term health problems caused by GBS (late onset GBS) cannot be prevented by screening programmes.
- Testing all women would result in more women receiving treatment unnecessarily (usually through antibiotics) and there is concern about the overuse of antibiotics during pregnancy and labour.
If I have GBS, what will it mean for my baby?
Whilst many women have the GBS bacteria in their vagina, only a small number of babies actually become infected with it. If a baby is suspected to have been infected then they will be given antibiotics shortly after birth. However, the more common approach is preventative, and is done by giving the mother antibiotics intravenously during labour. You will usually be given these antibiotics if:
- You have given birth to a baby previously who had a GBS infection
- If you have had a group B streptococcal urinary tract infection with GBS (cystitis) during the pregnancy
You may be offered antibiotics if any of the following scenarios apply to you, because they are known to increase the chances of a GBS infection:
- You have tested positive for GBS
- You are giving birth more than 18 hours after your waters have broken
- Your labour is premature
- You have a high temperature during labour
What should I do if I am worried about GBS?
There is nothing you can do to prevent being a 'carrier' of GBS. However, discuss your concerns about it with your midwife and she will help you to assess the risk of your baby contracting a GBS infection and whether antibiotics during labour would be beneficial to you.
Remember that whilst the effects of GBS infections can be severe, the chances of them affecting your baby are very small.