Group B streptococcus (GBS) is bacteria that can cause serious illness, particularly in newborns. It is responsible for many cases of meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, in infants, as well as some cases of blood infections (sepsis) and pneumonia. These infections often occur very soon after birth. Infections that take place in the first week of life are called early onset disease. These babies typically contract GBS from their mothers before or during birth. Premature newborns are more likely to develop GBS infections than full-term infants. Infections that occur a bit later, after a week of age and through the first 3 months of life, are called late onset disease. In late onset disease, bacteria can be contracted from the mother, other children, family members, and other caregivers.
Signs and Symptoms
A baby infected with GBS may have symptoms such as
- Feeding difficulties
Most pregnant women who are carriers of GBS will not have symptoms. Sometimes, however, these women may have urinary tract or blood infections while pregnant.
When to Call Your Pediatrician
If your newborn has any of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician at once.
How Is the Diagnosis made?
If your doctor thinks that your baby could have a GBS infection, the pediatrician will take a culture from the infant’s blood or spinal fluid and send it to the laboratory for testing and diagnosis.
Newborns with GBS infections should be treated with intravenous antibacterials such as ampicillin, gentamicin, penicillin, or another antibiotic such as a cephalosporin.
Early onset GBS infections in newborns can often be prevented if infected pregnant women take intravenous (never by mouth) antibacterials when they are giving birth, typically when labor begins. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women be tested for GBS organisms in the vagina and rectum late in their pregnancy (during the 35th to 37th week). Unfortunately, treating the mother does not prevent late onset infections.
There are currently no vaccines against GBS infections, although several are being studied.