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
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:
A pregnant woman should speak with her doctor about her GBS status. A woman who has GBS in her body typically does not feel sick, but she is at increased risk of passing the bacteria to her baby during birth. Sometimes, however, these women may have urinary tract or blood infections while pregnant.
When to Call Your Pediatrician:
If your newborn has any of the above symptoms, contact your pediatrician at once.
How the Diagnosis is 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. The pediatrician may also take a chest x-ray to confirm a diagnosis of pneumonia.
Newborns with GBS infections should be treated with intravenous antibiotics 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) antibiotics when they are giving birth, typically when labor begins.
About 1 out of every 4 (about 25%) pregnant women carry GBS bacteria in their rectum or vagina. Those women are considered GBS positive. A woman may test positive for the bacteria at some times and not others. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all pregnant women to be tested for GBS bacteria in the vagina and rectum between 35 to 37 weeks of every pregnancy. Unfortunately, treating the mother does not prevent late onset infections.
Click here to learn more about how to protect your newborn from Group B Strep!
There are currently no vaccines against GBS infections, although several are being studied.