Group B Strep Infection: GBS

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterial infection that can be found in a pregnant woman's vagina or rectum. A mother can pass GBS to her baby during delivery. GBS is responsible for affecting about 1 in every 2,000 babies in the United States. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill. Although GBS is rare in pregnant women, the outcome can be severe and therefore physicians include testing as a routine part of prenatal care.

How can I find out if I have Group B Strep infection?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended routine screening for vaginal strep B for all pregnant women. This screening is performed between the 35th and 37th week of pregnancy (anytime other than this time will not be significant to show if a woman is carrying GBS during the time of her delivery). The test involves a swab of both the vagina and the rectum. The sample is then taken to a lab where a culture is analyzed for any presence of GBS. Test results are usually available within 24 to 48 hours.

What if I test positive for Group B Strep infection?

If you test positive for GBS this simply means that you are a carrier. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill. Approximately one of every 100 to 200 babies whose mothers carry GBS will develop signs and symptoms of GBS disease. There are however, symptoms that may indicate that you are at a higher risk of delivering a baby with GBS. These symptoms include:

  • Labor or rupture of membrane before 37 weeks
  • Rupture of membrane 18 hours or more before delivery
  • Fever during labor
  • A urinary tract infection as a result of GBS during your pregnancy
  • A previous baby with GBS disease

In this case your physician will want to use antibiotics for prevention and protection.

According to the CDC if you have tested positive and are not in the high risk category, then your chances of delivering a baby with GBS are:

  • 1 in 200 if antibiotics are not given
  • 1 in 4000 if antibiotics are given

How can I protect my baby from Group B Strep infection?

If you test positive for GBS and meet the high risk criteria then your physician will recommend giving you antibiotics through IV during your delivery to prevent your baby from becoming ill. Taking antibiotics orally will not be effective. Taking antibiotics greatly decreases the chances of your baby becoming ill.

If you are at a low risk, the decision to use antibiotics is up to you. There are herbal remedies that you can take 2-3 weeks before delivery that a midwife or homeopathic physician can recommend.

How does Group B Strep infection affect a newborn baby?

Babies may experience early or late-onset of GBS.

The signs and symptoms of early onset GBS include:

  • Signs and symptoms occurring within hours of delivery
  • Breathing problems, heart and blood pressure instability
  • Gastrointestinal and kidney problems
  • Sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis are the most common complications

Newborns with early-onset are treated the same as the mothers, which is through intravenous antibiotics.

The signs and symptoms of late-onset GBS include:

  • Signs and symptoms occurring within a week or a few months of delivery
  • Meningitis is the most common symptom
  • Late-onset GBS is not as common as early-onset

Late-onset of GBS could be a result of delivery or the baby may have contracted it by coming into contact with someone who has GBS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How serious is GBS?
Answer: GBS can cause bladder infections and womb infections for the mother. In some cases GBS can cause still birth. Newborns can get meningitis, Sepsis, and pneumonia.

Question: If I test positive for GBS does that mean my baby is going to get it also?
Answer: No. Approximately 1 of every 100-200 babies who are born to mothers who carry GBS will become ill.

Question: What percentage of babies born to mothers with GBS will actually become ill?
Answer: Approximately 1 of every 100-200 babies born to mothers with GBS will become ill. However, there are certain symptoms that put a mother at a higher risk than others.

Question: What can I do to prevent my baby from getting GBS disease?
Answer: Intravenous antibiotics (antibiotics given through IV) are recommended during delivery to reduce the chance of you baby becoming sick.

Question: Do I have to take antibiotics or is there a natural alternative?
Answer: It is your choice if you want to take antibiotics. There are certain herbal methods that you can take 2-3 weeks before delivery that a midwife or homeopathic physician can provide for you.

Question: Is Group B Strep related to strep throat?
Answer: No, the two are not related.

Question: Can a woman who tests positive take oral antibiotics before delivery?
Answer: No, taking oral antibiotics is not effective when dealing with GBS.

Question: Are antibiotics safe for the baby?
Answer: Penicillin is most commonly used and is safe during pregnancy in non-allergic patients. There are substitute drugs for those who are allergic to penicillin but they could still experience an allergic reaction. It is best to discuss the pros and cons with your physician.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association