July is Group B Strep awareness month.
I asked Oliver Plumb, Partnerships and Campaigns Officer for Group B Strep support, to summarise what women expecting their first child in the UK should know about Group B Strep.
Hi Oliver, can you tell us what Group B Strep is please?
Group B Strep is one of many bacteria which live normally in and on humans without causing any harm or symptoms. About 1 in 4 women will carry group B Strep bacteria.
Why should women who are preparing to give birth for the first time know about it?
Pregnant women should know about group B Strep because, if they are carrying the bacteria around the time they give birth, there’s about a 50% chance their baby will be exposed to it and, if they are, a 1-2% chance their baby falling seriously ill with meningitis, sepsis or pneumonia. If they know they carry group B Strep bacteria, they can have simple and safe antibiotics in labour which reduces the chance of infection by about 80-90%.
How can women know whether they carry the bacteria? Don’t they get tested as part of their routine antenatal care?
There are no symptoms associated with carrying group B Strep, so the only way to find out is to be tested. This isn’t done routinely on the NHS, as the UK National Screening Committee aren’t convinced screening would do more good than harm. We think their view is flawed, and overlooks widespread evidence from other countries that screening is simple, safe, and effective. For example, our rate (how many babies fall sick per 1000 babies born alive) of early-onset group B Strep infection is about 2.5x that of the United States, where they have been routinely screening all pregnant women since the early 2000s.
If a woman wants to get tested to see if she’s carrying group B Strep, she can do so privately for about £35. We have a curated list of reputable providers of the group B Strep test at www.gbss.org.uk/test
Once women get the results, what should they do? And what should happen?
Whether a woman gets a test result that’s positive or negative for group B Strep carriage, she should let her midwife or doctor know. If the result is positive, she’d be offered antibiotics in labour or when her waters break. This is usually Penicillin, so it’s very important for her to let her midwife or doctor know if she’s allergic to Penicillin as alternatives are available.
Thank you for your answers. Where can women find more information?
My pleasure, if anyone reading this wants more information they can have a read through our page on group B Strep and pregnancy at https://gbss.org.uk/what-is-group-b-strep/, email us on email@example.com or call our Helpline on 0330 120 0796.