Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterial infection that can be found in a pregnant woman’s vagina or rectum. This bacteria is normally found in the vagina and/or lower intestine of 15% to 40% of all healthy, adult women.
Those women who test positive for GBS are said to be colonized. A mother can pass GBS to her baby during delivery. GBS is responsible for affecting about 1 in every 2,000 babies in the United States. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill.
Although GBS is rare in pregnant women, the outcome can be severe, and therefore physicians include testing as a routine part of prenatal care.
How can I find out if I have Group B Strep infection?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended routine screening for vaginal strep B for all pregnant women. This screening is performed between the 35th and 37th week of pregnancy (anytime other than this time will not be significant to show if a woman is carrying GBS during the time of her delivery).
The test involves a swab of both the vagina and the rectum. The sample is then taken to a lab where a culture is analyzed for any presence of GBS. Test results are usually available within 24 to 48 hours.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all women who have risk factors PRIOR to being screened for GBS (for example, women who have preterm labor beginning prior to 37 completed weeks’ gestation) are treated with IV antibiotics until their GBS status is established.
How does someone get group B strep?
The bacteria that causes group B strep normally lives in the intestine, vagina, or rectal areas. Group B strep colonization is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Approximately 15-40% of all healthy women carry group B strep bacteria. For most women there are no symptoms of carrying the GBS bacteria.
What if I test positive for Group B Strep infection?
If you test positive for GBS this simply means that you are a carrier. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill. Approximately one of every 100 to 200 babies whose mothers carry GBS will develop signs and symptoms of GBS disease. There are, however, symptoms that may indicate that you are at a higher risk of delivering a baby with GBS. These symptoms include:
- Labor or rupture of membrane before 37 weeks
- Rupture of membrane 18 hours or more before delivery
- Fever during labor
- A urinary tract infection as a result of GBS during your pregnancy
- A previous baby with GBS disease
In this case your physician will want to use antibiotics for prevention and protection.
According to the CDC, if you have tested positive and are not in the high risk category, then your chances of delivering a baby with GBS are:
- 1 in 200 if antibiotics are not given
- 1 in 4000 if antibiotics are given
How can I protect my baby from Group B Strep infection?
If you test positive for GBS and meet the high risk criteria, then your physician will recommend giving you antibiotics through IV during your delivery to prevent your baby from becoming ill. Taking antibiotics greatly decreases the chances of your baby becoming ill.
For women who are group B strep carriers, antibiotics before labor starts are not a good way to get rid of group B strep bacteria. Since they naturally live in the gastrointestinal tract (guts), the bacteria can come back after antibiotics. A woman may test positive at certain times and not at others. That’s why it is important for all pregnant women to be tested for group B strep between 35 to 37 weeks of every pregnancy.
If you are at a low risk, the decision to use antibiotics is up to you. There are herbal remedies that you can take 2-3 weeks before delivery that a midwife or homeopathic physician can recommend.
How does Group B Strep infection affect a newborn baby?
Babies may experience early or late-onset of GBS.
The signs and symptoms of early onset GBS include:
- Signs and symptoms occurring within hours of delivery
- Breathing problems, heart and blood pressure instability
- Gastrointestinal and kidney problems
- Sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis are the most common complications
Newborns with early-onset are treated the same as the mothers, which is through intravenous antibiotics.
The signs and symptoms of late-onset GBS include:
- Signs and symptoms occurring within a week or a few months of delivery
- Meningitis is the most common symptom
- Late-onset GBS is not as common as early-onset
Late-onset of GBS could be a result of delivery, or the baby may have contracted it by coming into contact with someone who has GBS.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How serious is GBS? GBS can cause bladder infections and womb infections for the mother. In some cases GBS can cause stillbirth. Newborns can get meningitis, sepsis, and pneumonia.
If I test positive for GBS does that mean my baby is going to get it also? No. Approximately 1 of every 100-200 babies who are born to mothers who carry GBS will become ill.
What percentage of babies born to mothers with GBS will actually become ill? Approximately 1 of every 100-200 babies born to mothers with GBS will become ill. However, there are certain symptoms that put a mother at a higher risk than others.
What can I do to prevent my baby from getting GBS disease? Intravenous antibiotics (antibiotics given through IV) are recommended during delivery to reduce the chance of your baby becoming sick.
Do I have to take antibiotics, or is there a natural alternative? It is your choice if you want to take antibiotics. There are certain herbal methods that you can take 2-3 weeks before delivery that a midwife or homeopathic physician can provide for you.
Is Group B Strep related to strep throat? No, the two are not related.
Can a woman who tests positive take oral antibiotics before delivery? Treating the mother with oral antibiotics during the pregnancy may decrease the amount of GBS for a short time, but it will not eliminate the bacteria completely and will leave the baby unprotected at birth. Also, waiting to treat the baby with antibiotics after birth is often too late to prevent illness.
Are antibiotics safe for the baby? Penicillin (Category B) is commonly used during pregnancy in non-allergic patients. There are substitute drugs for those who are allergic to penicillin, but they could still experience an allergic reaction. It is best to discuss the pros and cons with your health care provider.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 58.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov
March of Dimes, www.marchofdimes.com
American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org