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Home » Latest News » What is Group B Streptococcus, and how does it harm new-born babies?

What is Group B Streptococcus, and how does it harm new-born babies?

What is Group B Streptococcus, and how does it harm new-born babies?

Group B Streptococcus infections can develop into pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis if it is not identified and treated quickly in infants.

In recent months we have seen several upsetting cases of babies being born with Group B Streptococcus (Strep B) who have either had severe complications or passed away. It is estimated that 1 in every 1750 new-born babies will be diagnosed with early-onset Group B Streptococcus infection, the most common cause of life-threatening illness in new-born babies. Of those 1/1750 babies infected with Strep B during the birthing process, 19 will die and 14 will be left with long-term disabilities.

Strep B is a part of the intestinal and vaginal physiologic flora and the primary way it is passed along is through childbirth . In some cases pregnant women due to give birth will be tested and treated for the bacteria to reduce the risk of a baby becoming infected. The bacteria is treated with a simple antibiotic drip, generally penicillin unless the mother has an intolerance – this reduces the chances of a new baby being infected by 90%.

Currently in the UK Strep B is present in 1/5 of pregnant women, but you will only be tested for it if you meet certain criteria: if a previous baby has developed a group B Strep infection, if you carried Strep B in a previous pregnancy, if Strep B is detected in a standard urine sample or swab, if you go into labour before 37 weeks gestation, or if your waters break before labour starts.

Campaigners are now calling for all women to be tested for Group B Streptococcus when they are readying for labour to prevent any more avoidable infant deaths. Group B Streptococcus infections can develop into pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis if it is not identified and treated quickly in infants. Preterm babies are at particular risk of developing serious complications, so too are babies whose mothers had a temperature during labour, or a water break pre-labour.

Leah Heckles is a lawyer at Bridge McFarland LLP and she talks about her experience with Strep B:

“I had a Strep B colonisation; it was only picked up because I needed to see the midwives about a water infection around 28 weeks into my pregnancy. I got sent an information leaflet and quickly realised that I was not receiving the recommended treatment of antibiotics to rid by body of the Strep B before my baby was born, in addition to the recommended antibiotics at the point of labour.

“I fought to be listened to and had to challenge the antenatal team at the time, and later I had similar issues when making sure the maternity team who handled my labour gave me the recommended intravenous antibiotics. If I hadn’t spoken with the Strep B charity and taken the time to educate myself then I don’t know what the outcome could have been for my son.

“Working alongside medical negligence lawyers really does make you realised how serious the consequences of mistakes and negligent treatment can be, I’m very thankful that my son was born safely and I just hope that anyone who is approaching the appropriate point in their pregnancy will get the test for Strep B, or at the very least be offered the information to enable them to make a decision about whether to have the test and what the warning signs are for a Strep B infection.

“Over the years I have advised all my pregnant friends and relatives to get the test – and I know that on some occasions they have had to push to get it done. My advice is this: remember that you have the right to decide if you want to get tested, it costs around £30, but that is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.”

In Germany universal Group B Streptococcus testing was first introduced in 2008, all pregnant women between 35 and 37 weeks of gestation are now tested for Group B Streptococcus, and in the first year alone the instances of Strep B in infants dropped by 32% . In the UK a study held in a maternity unit showed that universal screening led to a 66% reduction in infections. Nottingham University are currently undertaking trials into testing all pregnant women for Strep B.

Medical negligence solicitor Nicola Evans explains why these changes are so important:

“There is no excuse for scrimping on Strep B testing; babies are being seriously harmed by the lack of routine testing, and it is my hope that in the coming years universal testing will be adopted across the whole of the UK. A change that is simply way overdue.

“We have seen international studies proving that this testing is having a positive affect on the number of babies who are infected by Strep B, there should be no more delays in the NHS adopting this. At present you can get a Strep B test arranged privately, but no mother should be forced to miss out on this due to a lack of funds, universal access to free care at the point of need is one of the most fundamental core values of the NHS and we need to make sure it is protected along with vulnerable woman and babies.

"Not only would the test allow treatment during labour but also provide health professionals with the immediate alert that there is potential risk of infection in that new-born. We see all too often that babies develop complications after they have been discharged from the maternity ward and by which time emergency treatment is necessary and the baby has suffered harm that could have been preventable”

If your baby has been harmed by Strep B and you were not tested between weeks 35 and 37 gestation, then please get in touch so that your story can be added to the list of people campaigning for universal testing. You can email our team at info@bmcf.co.uk with the subject line ‘Strep B’, or give us a call on 01472 311 711.