Group B strep infection -- treatment and screening

by Julie Snyder

Grou B strepGroup B strep is part of the normal flora of the lower intestinal tract. It's not a "disease" that you catch. There's a good chance you have GBS in your body. It's estimated that between 25 and 40 percent of adults carry this bacteria.

Odds are that you're also unaware of its presence. Most pregnant women don't have any symptoms when they're carriers for group B strep bacteria.

It does mean that you're at higher risk for giving your baby a group B strep infection during birth. A newborn can contract GBS while passing through the birth canal.

Babies and group B strep infections

Babies whose GBS-positive moms do not receive antibiotics during labor face 20 times the risk of contacting the infection.

If you carry GBS and don't get preventative antibiotics during labor, your baby has a 1 in 200 chance of developing group B strep disease. If you receive antibiotics, your odds of delivering a baby with an infection drop to 1 in 4,000.

While the bacterium poses little risk to most adults, it can threaten your newborn's life. Babies infected with GBS face increased risk of pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis.

According to the Group B Strep International website, group B streptococcus is the leading infectious killer of newborns. It's more common than well-known newborn conditions like rubella, congenital syphilis, and spina bifida.

Screening for GBS

Between 35 and 37 weeks, your midwife or doctor will swab your vagina and rectal area.

This swab will be sent to a laboratory and be checked for GBS.

The test doesn't hurt and doesn't have any risks to you or your baby.

Preventative treatment

If your test comes back positive, your doctor or midwife will recommend that you get IV antibiotics during labor.

Antibiotics are given when labor starts to greatly reduce the number of group B strep bacteria present during labor. This reduces the chances of your newborn being exposed and becoming infected.

The antibiotics shouldn't keep you from moving around during labor or delivery. They're given every four to six hours and take about 20 minutes to go in. At that point the tubing can be removed from the catheter, giving you more freedom to move.

IV antibiotics are also recommended if:

✓ You had a previous baby who got sick with group B strep
✓ You've had a bladder or urinary tract infection this pregnancy
✓ You went into labor earlier than 37-weeks gestation and you haven't yet been screen for GBS
✓ You have a temperature of 100.4°F or greater ✓ Your water broke 18 hours ago or longer

If you received antibiotics for group B strep during labor, your health team with keep a close eye on your baby to see if he or she should get extra testing or treatment.

Since the implementation these guidelines in 1996, the CDC reports a 70 percent decrease in the rate of group B strep among infants in the first week of life.