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> All You Need to Know About Group B Streptococcus

Group B streptococcus infection, also known as group B streptococcus or GBS, is the infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus agalactiae (S. agalactiae). Group B streptococcal infection is a serious illness and can sometimes lead to death, especially in newborns, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

In general, GBS is a harmless commensal bacterium and is part of the human microbiota colonizing the gastrointestinal (stomach and intestine) and genitourinary (genital and urinary organs) tracts of up to 30% of healthy human adults. There are normally no symptoms for GBS.


More about GBS

1 in 4 pregnant women are said to be carriers of GBS. Being a carrier is different from being infected, as the bacterium is dormant and does not cause any issues. However, if a pregnant mother carries GBS, under certain circumstances, infection of both the mother and/or the newborn can develop. Babies can be infected by GBS before birth through several months of age due to their under-developed immune systems.

GBS can cause babies to be miscarried, stillborn, or become very sick after birth. GBS most commonly causes infection in the blood (sepsis), the fluid and lining of the brain (meningitis), and lungs (pneumonia). Some GBS survivors experience handicaps such as blindness, deafness, mental challenges, and/or cerebral palsy.

GBS can cause vaginal burning/irritation and/or unusual discharge which may be mistaken for a yeast infection and treated incorrectly. GBS can also cause bladder infections, with or without symptoms.


How is GBS transmitted?

In newborns, GBS infection is acquired through direct contact with the bacteria while in the uterus or during delivery; thus, the infection is transmitted from the carrier mother to her newborn. Approximately 50% of mothers who are carriers will pass the bacteria to their babies during pregnancy and vaginal delivery.


Effect of GBS on pregnancy

  • GBS can infect your baby even before your water breaks. GBS infections before birth are called “prenatal-onset.”

  • GBS can cause preterm labor, causing your baby to be born too early.

  • GBS infection can also cause your water to break prematurely without labor starting, causing your baby to lose a significant layer of protection.

  • It is thought that babies are most often infected with GBS as they pass through the birth canal. GBS infections within the first week of life are called “early-onset.”

  • Babies can become infected with GBS by sources other than the mother. GBS infections after the first week of life are called “late-onset.”

  • GBS may be able to infect your womb and/or C-section wound.


What can be done to prevent GBS

Since there are many ways that your child might be infected with GBS, preventing GBS is crucial! As there are no symptoms of GBS, it is important to get tested for GBS at 35 - 37 weeks into your pregnancy. For women who test positive for GBS during pregnancy and for those with certain risk factors for developing or transmitting GBS infection during pregnancy, intravenous antibiotics are recommended at the time of labour. 


Symptoms of GBS in babies

In the unfortunate event that babies get infected with GBS, parents should know the symptoms are immediately take the baby to their doctor. The following is a non-exhaustive list of symptoms:

  • High-pitched cry, shrill moaning, whimpering

  • Marked irritability, inconsolable crying

  • Constant grunting, as if constipated

  • Projectile vomiting

  • Feeds poorly or refuses to eat, not waking for feedings

  • Sleeping too much, difficulty being aroused

  • Fever or low or unstable temperature; hands and feet may still feel cold even with a fever

  • Blotchy, red, or tender skin

  • Blue, grey, or pale skin due to lack of oxygen

  • Fast, slow, or difficult breathing

  • Body stiffening, uncontrollable jerking

  • Listless, floppy, or not moving an arm or leg

  • Tense or bulgy spot on top of head

  • Blank stare

  • Infection (pus/red skin) at base of umbilical cord or in puncture on head from internal fetal monitor

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