A Simple Test to Save a Life – GBS Month

As the world’s media goes into overdrive around the arrival of a healthy baby boy in London last Monday it’s worth reflecting a moment on the health of the 350,000 or so other babies born on the same day around the globe.

And in terms of the 60,000 other babies in the UK this July (and every month of the year) Group B Streptococcus is top of the list of preventable life-threatening conditions.

With this in mind, and because it’s Group B awareness month this July, we’re delighted to welcome our partner, Jane Plumb MBE CEO of Group B Strep Support to blog and inform us about the key issues we should all know about regarding Group B Strep.

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There is a lot of support and information on their website and personal experiences of the impact of GBS in their HealthUnlocked community.

It’s all about awareness, so pay attention and spread the word!

– Matt Jameson Evans, Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer at HealthUnlocked

Jane Plumb, MBE, Chief Executive of National Charity Group B Strep Support.

What is Group B Streptococcus?

Expecting a baby can be one of the best times in your life. It’s a time when it’s important to know about group B Streptococcus (Group B Strep/GBS), as it is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, causing sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia.

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One in every four women carries the group B Strep bacterium in their vagina, which can be passed from mother to baby around birth. Carrying GBS has no symptoms and while GBS does not cause infection in most healthy adults, it can infect newborn babies. Most babies recover from their GBS infection, but tragically some die and others suffer life-long disabilities. The underlying rate of infection is approximately one in every 1,000 babies born: 700 babies a year in the UK.

Group B Strep infection in newborn babies is up to 90% preventable with testing and treatment of pregnant women – as is routine in the US, Canada, and many European countries. Carrying GBS around the time of giving birth is recognized as an important risk factor for severe infection in newborn babies, and yet women in the UK are rarely told about it by their health professionals and even more rarely offered testing.

The method used for detection of GBS is critical for obtaining accurate results. When done properly, antenatal GBS testing gives a very good indication as to the carriage status of the mum at delivery. To predict with high accuracy the likelihood of carrying GBS at delivery, the best time to test is at after 35 weeks of pregnancy using a vaginal and rectal swab. Testing later increases the chance that the baby will be born before the result is available so it is usually done before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Antenatal GBS testing is not routinely offered in the UK and many NHS hospitals don’t have access to the sensitive ‘gold standard’ ECM (Enriched Culture Medium) tests for GBS carriage. ECM tests are available from a number of NHS trusts, plus privately at clinics and through home-testing packs which cost around £35 each. Visit our website for current availability.

Many more GBS infections in newborn babies could be prevented by offering pregnant women sensitive ‘gold standard’ ECM test and offering intravenous antibiotics in labour to those carrying GBS to prevent the infection occurring in the newborn baby. Women where GBS is identified, plus others known to be at higher risk, can then be offered antibiotics in labour to minimize the risk of GBS in their newborn babies. The use of antibiotics at this stage reduces the risk of GBS infection in the newborns from around a one in 300 risk to less than one in 6,000.

What else should mums-to-be know?

A newborn baby is more likely to develop GBS infections when:

  • Mum has previously had a baby who had a GBS infection
  • GBS is found in Mum’s urine or on a vaginal or rectal swab this pregnancy
  • Mum has a high temperature in labour
  • Labour starts or waters break before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy
  • Waters break more than 18 hours before the baby is born

If GBS is found in the urine during pregnancy, mum will be given oral antibiotics to clear the infection. She will also be offered intravenous antibiotics in labour against GBS infection developing in her baby. If GBS has only been found from a vaginal or rectal swab, antibiotics aren’t given at the time GBS is found as they have not been found to be beneficial until labour starts, when they should then be offered.

What does the Group B Strep Support want to see?

Group B Strep Support, founded in 1996, is the UK’s only charity focused on GBS infection in newborn babies, promoting greater awareness and improving prevention of these usually avoidable but potentially life-threatening infections. The charity campaigns for pregnant women to be fully informed about GBS during routine antenatal care and for ‘gold standard’ GBS testing to be freely available.

July is GBS Awareness Month – A Simple Test to Save a Life – and Group B Strep Support will be urging pregnant women to get informed about GBS and consider testing.

– Jane Plumb, CEO of Group B Strep Support

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