Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterium that lives quite harmlessly in various parts of the body. A quarter of women of childbearing age carry GBS in their vagina and rectum without showing any symptoms.
In labour, however, there is a risk that the infection can be passed to the baby, which can cause serious side effects. Current figures suggest that one in 1000 babies suffer with complications associated with GBS which include preterm delivery, maternal infections, stillbirths and late miscarriages. Fortunately though, these complications are rare. More commonly, newborns can suffer long-term mental or physical handicap, ranging from mild learning disabilities to loss of sight, loss of hearing and lung damage.
Pregnant women whose babies are most at risk of developing GBS infections are those whose have tested positive to a GBS test during pregnancy, those delivering prematurely, those whose waters have broken more than 24 hours before delivery, or mums-to-be who have tested positive for GBS in a previous pregnancy.
However, the NHS currently doesn’t routinely test for GBS during pregnancy. This is because it’s a transient infection, which means you can be positive one week and negative the next.
GBS can be treated with a series of antibiotics during labour but only mums-to-be in high-risk categories are currently offered antibiotics. Their babies are then monitored for 24 hours for any signs of infection, which range from irritability, respiratory distress and poor feeding, to septicaemia, meningitis and pneumonia.
There is currently a campaign for the test, known as the Enriched Culture Method, to be made routine in the UK. Meanwhile, tests are available privately, for more information visit GBS.