July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, but do you know what it actually is? The bacteria that cause Group B Strep (GBS) is Streptococcus, and commonly lives in the gastrointestinal and genital tracts. GBS is fairly common and comes and goes naturally in your body. It is typically not harmful but can cause serious illness in adults of all ages, so it is important to understand what it is and take preventative measures to avoid potential infection.
GBS can cause:
- Bacteremia (infection in the bloodstream)
- Sepsis (extreme reaction to infection)
- Bone infections
- Joint infections
- Meningitis (infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
- Skin Infection
- Soft-tissue infection
GBS is not spread through food, water or general contact. If you live with someone who has GBS, you are not at risk of getting it and it is unknown how people get or spread GBS.
However, we do know that the genital tract is a part of the body involved with reproduction. Therefore, GBS can be spread by pregnant women to their babies during child birth. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women have the GBS bacteria in their body, making newborn babies at high risk for a GBS infection. When they have the infection, newborns are typically diagnosed with bacteremia, sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis. These diagnoses can cause long-term complications, such as deafness, developmental delays, or disabilities.
Fortunately, there are ways to help protect your baby during birth. If you are pregnant, your doctor or midwife will make sure that you are tested for GBS between 36 and 38 weeks. GBS can come and go, which is why testing so late in a pregnancy is crucial. If you test positive for GBS, you are given antibiotics (called beta-lactams) which will help protect your baby. However, these antibiotics cannot be given before labor because the bacteria grow too quickly.
Early-onset GBS means that the infection starts in the first week of their life. Most babies who get GBS disease within the first week of their life are exposed to the bacteria through delivery. Late-onset GBS means that your newborn can seem healthy at birth and through the first week of their life, but symptoms can appear shortly after. The newborn could have gotten the bacteria from the mother during birth or from another source.
Here are some of the symptoms to look for in newborns:
- Trouble feeding
- Irritability, continued fussiness
- Lethargy (limpness and/or difficulty waking up your baby)
- Difficulty breathing
Each year, approximately 930 babies are diagnosed with early-onset GBS and 1,050 with late-onset GBS.
Group B Strep can also affect adults who:
- Have diabetes
- Have heart disease
- Have congestive heart failure
- Have cancer or a history of cancer
- Are obese
- You are over 65 years of age
This blog is for informational purposes and does not serve as a consultation with a physician at Greenville Women’s Care. If you have questions about Group B Strep or any other questions regarding you or your baby’s health care, please schedule an appointment with us.
Call us at 252-757-3131 or visit our website to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians and advanced providers.
References: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/group-b-strep-and-pregnancy and https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jmwh.13125