Group B streptococcus, aka Group B strep or GBS, is a tricky type of bacteria because it lives in the body and often does not cause serious illness in adults under age 60. (Don’t get this confused with Group A strep – the type of bacteria that causes strep throat.) Both men and women can carry GBS, and the bacteria is found in the digestive and lower reproductive tract. It is not a sexually transmitted disease.
While Group B strep is usually harmless in adults, women can pass the bacteria onto their babies during birth, which can cause serious illness. It is important to take a deep breath and not stress. We like to make sure women are armed with the knowledge that they need to protect themselves and their babies. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of 11 commonly asked Group B strep questions that you might have.
1. How common is Group B strep bacteria in pregnant women?
Fairly common – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 4 pregnant women carry GBS bacteria.
2. Are there any signs or symptoms of Group B strep that I should look for?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that many women who are colonized with GBS show no symptoms or health effects. Though GBS can cause uterus or urinary tract infections in some women.
3. What harmful effects can GBS infections have on my baby?
Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria can cause meningitis in newborns, blood infections (such as sepsis) and pneumonia, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Due to these risks, it is important for pregnant women to speak with their doctor about GBS status, potential risks, treatment and prevention.
4. Can I be tested for Group B strep during pregnancy?
Yes – the CDC recommends that doctors test pregnant women for GBS bacteria when they are 35-37 weeks pregnant. The test is simple, quick and not painful. A swab is used to take a sample from a women’s vagina and rectum, and it is tested in a lab.
5. What happens if I test positive for Group B strep during pregnancy?
If you test positive, it doesn’t mean that you are sick. However, it does mean that you are at risk for passing bacteria onto your baby during labor. Good news – GBS in pregnant women can be treated. According to the CDC, receiving antibiotics through the vein (IV) during labor reduces your baby’s chance of developing GBS disease from a “1 in 200 chance” to a “1 in 4,000 chance.”
6. Does testing positive for GBS mean that my baby will become ill?
No – not every baby born to a mother with group B strep will be born ill. As previously stated, testing the mother for GBS is part of prenatal care. As such, IV antibiotics during labor can reduce chances of infection in babies to 1 in 4,000.
7. When should I get antibiotics during labor?
There are three scenarios where the CDC recommends pregnant women should receive antibiotics during labor reduce the risk of GBS infection in your baby. First, if you test positive during your current pregnancy. Second, if you have Group B strep bacteria in your urine during your current pregnancy. Third, if you have had a previous baby born with GBS infection.
8. What if I am allergic to a particular antibiotic?
Penicillin is the most commonly prescribed antibiotic for treating GBS during pregnancy. However, doctors can give other antibiotics to women who are allergic to penicillin (or another antibiotic). You should discuss allergies during your checkup while making your delivery plan. Also, it never hurts to remind doctors, nurses and hospital staff about any and all allergies upon arrival at the hospital!
9. What are the differences between early onset GBS disease and late onset GBS disease?
GBS infections in babies are typically divided into two types:
- Early-onset infections occur during the first 24-48 hours after birth. Babies contract Group B strep from their mothers during labor and childbirth. Giving pregnant women IV antibiotics during labor can help prevent infection. The CDC says that it is the only proven way to protect a baby from early onset GBS disease.
- Late-onset infections occur during the first week of life and up to three months. Bacteria can be transferred to a baby from the mother, other children, family members and caregivers.
10. How do I know if my baby is infected with GBS?
GBS infections occur soon after birth. Signs to look out for include fever, difficulty feeding, irritability (fussy, long crying periods, jittery or trembling) and lethargy (lack of energy, drowsy, sluggish). If your baby has any of these symptoms, the AAP recommends that you contact your pediatrician immediately.
11. Are there vaccines against Group B strep infections?
No – at this time there are no vaccinations for group B streptococcus (GBS), though this is currently being studied.