Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

The body is full of many types of naturally occurring bacteria and other organisms that are meant to aid in a variety of systems such as digestion. More often than not these bacteria do not cause any type of illness. Group B streptococcus is one of these types of bacteria, often within the digestive, urinary and reproductive tracts of women and men. While group B strep is typically harmless in adults, it can cause serious problems in newborns.

Causes

Group B strep can be present at any time in your life, and mostly goes unnoticed. If group B strep is present in a pregnant woman’s body, it can be passed to a baby when the newborn moves through the birth canal.

Symptoms

The types of symptoms seen in an infant with group B strep disease will depend on what stage during the baby’s life the infections occur. Early-onset GBS occurs during the baby’s first week of life, and usually within the first day or two. Late-onset GBS happens after the first 6 days of the baby’s life. Early-onset GBS can cause lung infections, blood infections and meningitis, while late-onset GBS can result in meningitis or pneumonia.

Early-onset symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy

Late-onset symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or feeding
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
Often, adults carrying group B strep have no noticeable signs or symptoms.

Testing and Treatment

It is recommended that any woman that is between 35 and 37 weeks pregnant should be screened for group B strep. It’s important to note that a positive test result does not mean that your baby will get group B strep disease, it just means the bacteria is present in your body. There are preventive steps to keep your baby safe.

In pregnant women, testing is performed by swabbing samples of the vagina and rectum, which will then be tested in a lab. In an infant, it is required to get a sample of the baby’s blood or in some cases, spinal fluid. These test results often take 2 to 3 days to be completed, as they are diagnosed by growing the bacteria from the fluids collected.

Treating group B strep differs depending on whether it is present in an infant or an adult. Adults are given antibiotics that are safe to take while pregnant. Babies, on the other hand, will receive antibiotics through IV.

To plan for screening for group B strep during pregnancy, please talk to your doctor. To learn more about this condition, please visit The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.