July is Group Strep B (GSB) awareness month, an annual campaign to highlight the importance of GBS education and research.

GBS is the leading cause of new born sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis in the UK, all of which can be devastating to a tiny baby. New data by Public Health England (PHE) shows that the rate of GBS infection in babies has risen by 77% between 1996 and 2020. In other words, the UK currently has more than double as many GBS infections as many other economically developed countries. Group B Strep Support (GBSS), a leading charity seeking to reverse this trend, recently published a report summarising the current problems and the reform needed.

Group B Strep

Many people carry GBS without knowing it. It does not pose a health risk or cause any symptoms in the person carrying the bacteria. However, if you become pregnant as a carrier then there is a small chance that your baby will develop GBS at which point it becomes a serious medical problem.

The normal treatment for GBS is relatively straightforward. The most common treatment comes in the form of intravenous antibiotics when labour starts. With this antibiotic cover, the infection should not be passed on to your baby.

If GBS does manage to pass on to the baby despite the mother being given intravenous antibiotics, the majority of babies can be successfully treated with penicillin. However, this is a serious and life-threatening condition for a baby and needs to be treated promptly and, if necessarily, aggressively with high doses of intravenous antibiotics.

The current prevention methods

At the moment the NHS does not screen all pregnant women for GBS. As the majority of carriers do not pass GBS on to their babies, the NHS believes universal prenatal scanning would be unnecessarily burdensome.  

Most babies can be successfully treated if they contract GBS, but a small minority can die or go on to develop serious illnesses and disabilities. However small the number of affected babies, any neonatal illness or death is devastating to the family involved. There is growing support for mandatory screening in pregnancy. GBSS is calling for all expectant parents to be informed about GBS, all doctors and midwives to be educated on GBS, and for all hospitals in the UK to use the recommended test GBS carriage. In the meantime, it is essential to raise awareness of this relatively uncommon but potentially life-threatening infection so that more parents can request the test on their own agency.