Preventing Group B Strep in Babies

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)—July is Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B Strep, or GBS, is a type of bacteria that can be passed from a pregnant mother to her newborn baby and the CDC says it’s the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns.

One in four pregnant women are carriers of GBS. Not all babies exposed to it become infected, but for those who do, the results can be devastating. 

“This is one of those things, even though it’s not that common, that can have various significant health ramifications and rarely catastrophic effects,” said OB-GYN Specialist Dr. Philip Clements of St. Peter’s Health Partners.

He says most women have no idea they’re GBS carriers, which is why screening is part of routine prenatal care. 

“The focus is identifying in the mother is a carrier and then treating them with antibiotics and by doing so, the chance of that early infection, it may not be zero, but it’s extremely remote,” he said.

In a recently updated screening program, a swab is taken at 36 weeks during a pelvic exam– but the results are only accurate for 5 weeks. If a pregnancy goes past 41 weeks, another test is needed.

“The one thing, which is a new thing that not everyone is aware of if they were negative then more than 5 weeks pass it is possible they could be positive,” said Dr. Clements.

If the infection is passed on to the baby, most have symptoms within the first few hours after birth.

“General irritability, they’re inconsolable. Lethargy, they’re sort of just lying there.”
Other signs of early-onset GBS include difficulty feeding and breathing, a blue-ish color to the skin, and a change in blood pressure.

Babies who get GBS a week or so after birth may have decreased movement of an arm or leg, breathing problems, fever, and a red area on the face or body.

If you notice any of these signs, early treatment is important as GBS can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, or sepsis. There’s no way to keep from becoming a GBS carrier, so all pregnant women can do is be sure they’re screened and, if need be, treated, so as not to infect the baby.