Group B Strep -- What If Your Baby Has Been Exposed?

by Kevin B. Doyle

Baby Exposed to Strep BGroup B strep is the most common cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns. It's also a frequent cause of newborn pneumonia.

GBS disease is far more common than other, more well-known, newborn conditions such as rubella, congenital syphilis, and spina bifida.

Newborn babies who get GBS should begin treatment as soon as possible to help prevent problems. Most little ones make a full recovery, but sadly, some babies do die. Care for sick babies has generally improved and in the U. S. only 4 to 6 percent of babies with the infections die. Babies who are exposed could end up with long-term effects, such as hearing loss or developmental disabilities.

If you're a carrier, your baby can contract GBS while passing through the birth canal or your newborn could become infected after delivery by coming into contact with a person who has the GBS "germ."

Twenty-five percent of women carry group B strep in their vagina or rectum. Most do not exhibit any symptoms. About one out of every 200 babies whose mothers carry GBS, and are not treated during labor with antibiotics, will develop signs and symptoms of GBS disease.

To help reduce the risk of passing streptococcal infection to your baby, you'll be offered a screening test between 35 and 37 weeks. If you test positive, your doctor or midwife will recommend antibiotics through a vein during labor.

Is Your Baby at Risk?

Certain symptoms suggest that your baby faces a higher risk for GBS infection:

  • Being born three or more weeks before the due date
  • Mother who has already given birth to a baby with GBS sepsis
  • Mother who has a fever during labor
  • Mother who had a urinary tract infection cause by GBS
  • Water breaks more than 18 hours before the baby is delivered
  • Use of intrauterine fetal monitoring during labor

In these cases, your doctor will recommend antibiotics for prevention and protection.

Newborns who face an increased risk will be tested for a GBS infection. Your baby's doctor may give antibiotics through a vein during the first 48 hours of life until the blood culture results are available.

Symptoms of Group B Strep Infections

How does GBS infection affect a newborn baby? Babies may experience early or late-onset of GBS.

The signs and symptoms of early onset GBS include:

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

The signs and symptoms of late-onset GBS include:

  • Occurs within a week or a few months of delivery
  • Fever and meningitis are the most common symptom

Late-onset GBS is less common than early-onset. It could have been contacted during delivery or the baby may have contracted it by coming into contact with someone who has the bacteria.

GBS infections in newborns and older babies are treated with antibiotics like penicillin or ampicillin given through a vein. If your baby has complications, other procedures may be needed.

Since the bacteria doesn't pass into breast milk, you can safely breastfeed your baby if you're GBS positive.

Have you experienced GBS? Just found out you're a carrier or know someone who is?