Group B Streptococcus (also known as Group B Strep or GBS) is the most common cause of severe infection in newborn babies, and usually shows in the first hours and days of life. GBS is a common bacterium carried, usually harmlessly, by around 20-25% of the UK population. In babies aged between 0-3 months, GBS infection often presents as sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis.
GBS infection in newborn babies is usually described as being early-onset (presenting in the first six days of life) or late-onset (presenting between one week and three months of life). The risk of a baby developing a GBS infection is rare after one month of age, and very rare after three months. More information about the key signs to look out for can be found on the GBSS website.
Rarely, GBS can cause infection in a baby during pregnancy or result in stillbirth. There is some evidence to suggest that GBS may be a rare cause of late miscarriage.
GBS infection needs to be treated promptly and aggressively with high doses of intravenous antibiotics. Most babies can be treated successfully with penicillin, although some may require the expertise of a neonatal intensive care unit. Sadly, even with full intensive care, approximately one in every 16 babies infected with GBS will die, and one in every 11 survivors may have a long-term disability.
Research from the BPSU has shown that the incidence of invasive GBS infection in babies increased by 51% between 2000-01 and 2014-15. However, most Group B Strep infections in newborns are preventable. It is for this reason that awareness is so important: it saves lives. Recognising the signs of GBS infection in young babies ensures that babies receive early and appropriate treatment, saving lives and preventing disability.
You can help Group B Strep Support by completing their new research survey. They are seeking information from families about the impact of late-onset GBS infection (in babies aged 7-90 days) on babies and their families.
For more information you can visit the Group B Strep Support website, or contact the GBSS team on 01444 416176.