Group B Strep is a normal bacterium found in the vagina and bowel of about one in four women in the UK. It is not harmful to the carrier and is not a sexually transmitted disease.
What is Group B Strep?
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a normal bacterium which is carried by 20-30% of adults, most commonly in the gut, and for up to 25% of women, in the vagina, usually without symptoms or side-effects.
GBS can occasionally cause infection, most commonly in new-born babies, sometimes in adults and, very rarely, during pregnancy and before labour.
GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease. Treatment of a woman and her partner carrying GBS does not prevent re-colonisation.
There are two types of GBS infection in new-borns:
Early-onset GBS infection is more common (2/3 of cases in babies) and occurs when the baby is up to 6 days old; a key symptom is the rapid development of breathing problems, associated with blood poisoning.
Late-onset GBS infection – usually presenting as GBS meningitis – occurs between age 6 days and 1 month and, more rarely, up to age 3 months. After 3 months’ old, GBS infection in babies is extremely rare.
GBS is recognised to cause preterm delivery, maternal infections, stillbirths and late miscarriages; and preterm babies are known to be at risk of GBS infection as their immune systems are not as well developed.
Overall, approximately one in every 1,000 babies born in the UK develops group B Strep infection.
On average in the UK, at least
- two babies a day develop a group B Strep infection
- one baby a week dies from their GBS infection, and
- one baby a week survives with long-term disabilities – physical, mental or both.
Why do I need to know about Group Strep B if I am pregnant?
Babies may be exposed to Group B Strep around birth when their mothers are carriers. Most babies will be healthy, but in a small number of cases, it can cause complications that can be life-threatening to the baby.
How can I find out if I carry Group B Strep?
Group B Strep can be detected by taking swabs from the vagina and rectum and sending them to the laboratory. Group B Strep can come and go so testing usually takes place after 35 weeks of pregnancy.
Testing is not routinely available on the NHS.
Dears Pharmacy offers a Group B Strep home testing kit for £35.
What happens if I have Group B Strep?
If a test shows you carry Group B Strep you should notify the healthcare professionals caring for you during your pregnancy – such as your midwife or obstetrician (doctor). You should be offered antibiotics once labour starts.
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