Did you know that Group B Streptococcus is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK? Probably not.
Which is thousands of parents, who have lost a baby due to the infection, have delivered a petition to the Department of Health which calls for action to protect babies from this potentially deadly condition.
The petition is calling for testing for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) to be routinely and freely available to all pregnant women in the UK.
Despite Group B Streptococcus being the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, usually within the first week of life, the NHS does not routinely test pregnant women for this.
What is Group B Streptococcus?
The bacterium is carried by one in four pregnant women in the intestines and/or vagina and babies can become colonised with GBS around labour and birth. Some of these babies will go on to develop GBS infections, including meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia.
Almost one newborn baby a day in the UK suffers a GBS infection; of these sick babies, one in 10 will die and a further one in 20 will suffer long-term physical or mental disabilities. Infections are up to 90% preventable when antibiotics are given in labour to women found to be carrying GBS.
Group B Strep Support is the UK’s only charity dedicated to the prevention of GBS infection in newborn babies and campaigns for better awareness of this devastating infection.
On their website, they explain. "Carrying GBS is not associated with any health risks or symptoms to the carrier. GBS can be passed from one person to another through sexual activity, but it is not a sexually transmitted disease, and is also carried by people who have had no sexual contact.
"Simply carrying GBS (detected from vaginal or rectal swabs) does not require treatment. However, GBS detected in the urine/ blood usually signifies a GBS infection, which may require antibiotics treatment – your doctor can advise further.
"It’s good to know whether you carry GBS during pregnancy – it’s it’s been detected during your current pregnancy, you should be offered intravenous antibiotics in labour. These massively reduce the risk of your newborn baby developing a group B Strep infection. There are no symptoms of carrying GBS, so the only way to find out whether you are is through testing.
"Intravenous antibiotics, given in labour to women who carry GBS late in pregnancy, have been shown to be highly effective at reducing the risk that a newborn baby will develop early-onset GBS infection (GBS infection developing in the first 6 days of life). They do not reduce late-onset GBS infection (developing from age 7 days and typically by age 3 months). Researchers around the world are working on developing a vaccine that will one day prevent almost all GBS infection in babies, but it’s not available yet."