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Group B Strep or GBS Screening in Pregnancy Facts

Updated on September 25, 2014

Did you know that group B strep (or streptococcus) can lead to death of a newborn, or cause other serious illnesses? I am not sure how many women know of GBS (my guess would be not many), but every pregnant woman should be aware of this potentially harmful bacterium. GBS affects about one in 1000 babies in the UK, about twice as much in the US. Having a GBS screening test and taking the appropriate treatment, if you are positive, can save your baby serious harm. Group B strep, as stated above, is a bacterium that normally lives in the genitourinary or gastrointestinal tracts, areas like the vagina and rectum. In adults, GBS infection is relatively easy to treat. Unfortunately, in babies, it can be potentially deadly and could cause conditions such as meningitis (inflammation of membranes of the brain/spinal cord), sepsis (infection of blood), etc. These conditions could lead to serious disabilities or even death of the newborn.

About a third of healthy adult women have GBS present, although not all of them would pass the bacteria along to their babies. However, some instances can make the passage of the bacterium to the baby more likely. These include:

  • If you've had a fever during labor.
  • If your water broke prior to 37 weeks.
  • If you've had a urinary tract infection caused by GBS.
  • Have had a prior baby with GBS.

Symptoms, Screening Details And Course Of Action

Can You Look Out For Any Symptoms of GBS:

Unfortunately, pregnant women exhibit no symptoms of GBS.

What Does Screening For GBS Involve:

Screening for GBS is a simple process. The process involves taking a swab of the exterior of the rectum and vagina. This is done one month prior to the due date. Results of the test can be expected within 48 hours.

Course Of Action If The Test Returns Positive:

The usual recommended treatment is to have the pregnant woman on intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy during the labor. The IV antibiotic is not given prior to labor since it has not been shown to be effective.

Antibiotics decrease the risk of the newborn developing GBS by a factor of 20. Unfortunately though some babies still get the disease despite the antibiotic treatment. As of now, there are no vaccines to prevent GBS. However, one can still screen for it and take the recommended treatment to minimize the risk. So, do get screened for GBS if you are pregnant (around the 35th to 37th week) – it is vital and could potentially save your child from serious illness, disability or even death.


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