Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is bacteria that can be present in the intestines, vagina and/or rectum. About 25% of all healthy adult women carry this bacteria. During pregnancy, GBS can cause urinary tract infections which can sometimes lead to preterm labor. Because it is possible to pass this infection to the baby during delivery, routine prenatal care includes testing for GBS. Most pregnant women who test positive for this bacteria (colonized) present no symptoms.
How can you get Group B Strep?
Group B Strep is not a sexually transmitted disease, you cannot get it from contact with food, water or touching a surface. It is not something you can catch from another person. Group B Strep is bacteria that normally lives in our intestines, vagina and rectum.
Testing for Group B Strep is routinely done because although not every baby exposed will contract it, those who do can become severely ill. The most severe outcomes include pnuemonia, meningitis, sepsis and death.
Being tested for GBS is part of routine prenatal care during pregnancy, between the 35th and 37th weeks of gestation. A swab is taken from the vagina and the rectum and the culture is sent off to a lab. Results are typically available within 24 to 48 hours and you are typically notified of the results at your next prenatal visit.
Women who test positive for Group B Strep are given IV antibiotics during labor. Those who go into preterm labor before 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy are also treated with the antiobiotics to protect the mother and baby, as the test has not yet been given at this point.
What if I am having a cesarean section?
Group B Strep can still affect your baby even if you are having a scheduled cesarean section but the chances of infection are much lower. The same treatment of antibiotics are routinely given to women who test positive regardless of vaginal or cesarean birth.
There are two sets of Group B Strep disease in babies.
Early onset Group B Strep in newborns happens within the first week of life. This type is passed from mother to baby during childbirth. Symptoms include fever, difficulty feeding and lethargy.
Late onset Group B Strep occurs in newborns more than a week old and as late as a few months old. The symptoms include difficulty breathing, difficulty feeding, fever, lethargy and extreme irritability. Being treated with antibiotics during childbirth does NOT prevent late onset Group B Strep in babies.
What kind of problems can Group B Strep cause in pregnant women?
Mothers can develop uterine infections during pregnancy. If left undetected, uterine and/or urinary tract infection can cause fever, an increse in heart rate (which may increase the baby's heart rate), preterm labor and even stillbirth.
What kind of problems can Group B Strep cause in newborns?
Babies can develop several illnesses from Group B Strep:
Pnuemonia, a lung infection.
Sepsis, an infection of the blood.
Meningitis, an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
There are currently no vaccinations for Group B Strep.
To learn more about Group B Strep discuss with your provider and/or doula. As with most antibiotics a common side effect is yeast, ask your provider about prevention methods for this uncomfortable possibility.