What is Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria that is commonly present in the adult body and usually causes no harm.

The problem with GBS during pregnancy is that there are times the GBS can be passed to the baby and therefore, place the baby at risk of illnesses.

The reason women are routinely tested in pregnancy for GBS is because it  has no symptoms, but if a baby is exposed then they can develop a range of illness from bacterial blood infection (septicaemia), pneumonia, meningitis or even bone infections

As serious as it can be, it is fortunately easily treatable in the mother, so passing it onto the baby can be prevented . The rate of positive GBS cases is declining in Australia due to preventative screening programs in most hospitals when the mother is around 37 weeks pregnant.

There are additional times your health care provider may suggest you are tested for GBS, especially if the baby may be at greater risk to exposure to GBS if the mother is infected.

 Your doctor may do additional tests for GBS if:

  • you have tested positive for GBS in a previous pregnancy
  • Had a previous child born with a GBS infection
  • premature labour
  • If your waters have broken prematurely
  • or if you have a GBS urinary infection

Testing for maternal GBS is via a vaginal swab, and the treatment is with antibiotics. 

If your baby is born to a mother with untreated GBS, that baby may develop one of two types of illness, the baby can develop what is called early-onset illness which develops within one to two days after birth. Late-onset illness occurs  from one week old, through to several months old.

Symptoms of early-onset GBS infection include: a sleepy, sometimes irritable baby, who feeds poorly and who can even make a grunting noise when they breathe. The baby’s body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate may be very low or high, depending on the severity of the condition.

Late on-set symptoms also include: fever, poor feeding, possible vomiting, and drowsiness.

Things to note ;

  • GBS does not affect breastfeeding and can not be passed on to your baby through your breastmilk.
  • GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease
  • The baby can be at risk of becoming ill because of GBS if the mother is untreated.
  • Babies who are born via caesarian section where the membranes have not broken, are not at risks of illness from GBS.

If you have any doubts or concerns your doctor or midwife will be able to provide you with a more individualised consultation.

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