Health Q&A

Streptococcus: More Than Just A Sore Throat

July 3, 2017

International Group B Strep Awareness Month  

According to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women carry the infection Group B Strep (GBS), which can cause life-threatening illnesses for newborn babies. Yet GBS can be easily prevented, which makes raising awareness of this infection even more prevalent.

This is what International Group B Strep Awareness Month is here to do. The whole of July is dedicated to raising awareness of GBS infection and in honour of this month, we wanted to give you all the information on this infection plus details on how you can raise awareness. Together, we can put an end to this devastating illness.

What is Group B Strep (GBS)?

GBS is a type of infection caused by the streptococcus group of bacteria. GBS bacteria can live harmlessly in our bodies and when this is the case, it’s known as ‘carrying’ GBS or being ‘colonised’ with GBS. When GBS is carried, the bacteria live in the body’s bowels or a woman’s vagina or cervix and doesn’t invade tissues or organs.

GBS only becomes dangerous if it turns into an infection as it can cause serious illness, particularly in newborns, the elderly and those with a weak immune system. A GBS infection can cause the following if not treated:

  • Blood poisoning (septicaemia)
  • Infection of the lung (pneumonia)
  • Infection of the brain lining (meningitis)

GBS becomes a concern when a pregnant woman gives birth, as the baby can come into contact with the GBS on its way into the world. In most cases, babies will be unaffected but there’s a chance that they will contract the infection.

There are two types of GBS infection in newborns:

  • Early-onset GBS infection

This is when a baby develops a GBS infection when they under seven days old. Most babies in this situation contract the infection within 12 hours of the birth.

  • Late-onset GBS infection

As the name suggests, this type of GBS infection develops later on – typically between seven days and three months after the baby is born. Usually, this type of GBS isn’t associated with the birth. As GBS infections can spread if you don’t wash your hands properly after using the bathroom, it is thought that many case of late-onset GBS infection are contracted this way.

What are the signs and symptoms of Group B Strep?

Newborns with GBS may show the following signs:

  • ‘Floppy’ and unresponsive
  • Not feeding well
  • Making grunting noises
  • Jaundice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • High or low temperature

Infected pregnant women may have a fever, abdominal pain, or low blood pressure. Similarly, nonpregnant adults will have a fever and general signs of an infection. If you think you or your baby might have a GBS infection you should seek immediate medical advice.

How can you prevent Group B Strep?

Because a GBS infection can have serious complications, prevention is much better than treatment. To prevent this heart-breaking infection, pregnant women will usually be tested to see if they are a carrier of GBS by a vaginal or rectal swab when they are 35 – 37 weeks into the pregnancy. If the result is positive, then antibiotics will be administered through a vein during labour, which will prevent the baby contracting the infection.

If a woman goes into labour before any GBS testing has taken place, then a doctor will administer antibiotics during labour just in case.

How can I raise awareness?

GBS infections can have devastating effects, yet prevention is easy. That’s why raising awareness is so important. There is a lot you can do to help – head over to the International GBS website to get inspired on ways you can get involved.  

If you have any concerns about Group B Strep, get in touch. Our team of nurses are ready to guide you through any emergencies or general wellness advice.