Since my time working as a Community Midwife I have been aware of the possible impact of a Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection on newborn babies.
When mother’s are carrying GBS at the end of their pregnancies (referred to as ‘GBS positive’) it generally causes no symptoms nor harm to the woman; it is one of those ‘healthy bugs’ that live in our bodies, commonly in the vagina and rectum. However, at the time of birth a tiny percentage of babies will pick up GBS and become very unwell, even die (The Telegraph today quotes 50 babies per year die, with a further 70 left with disabilities).
As a midwife every single baby counts and for parents their baby is precious. It is little comfort to have a seriously unwell baby, or to lose your baby, knowing that the chance of this was rare, but could potentially have been prevented.
Women known to be GBS positive at the end of their pregnancy will receive intravenous antibiotics in established labour, alongside closer observation of their baby beyond birth for signs of infection. It is also good for all new parents to be aware of important signs and symptoms of illness in their baby.
In The Telegraph today is an article about offering all women in late pregnancy (ideally between 35 and 37 weeks) testing for GBS with a vaginal and rectal swab that uses an enriched medium (this is more accurate for picking up GBS). Sadly, although 20-40% of women are known to carry GBS, only about 10% of hospitals are offering screening and not all women are even aware of the existence of GBS.
I am a firm believer in giving expectant couples accurate, up-to-date, unbiased information about a whole range of topics relevant to their pregnancy, birth and baby. GBS is one of those!
Please look at the website www.gbss.org.uk for further information.