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Group B Strep: Know the Facts

photo via freedigitalphotos.net; Ohmega1982

July was Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B strep can be a deadly disease if left undetected or untreated. It’s our goal at Cherokee Women’s Health to arm our moms-to-be with as much information as possible so they can have peace of mind during pregnancy.

Group B strep disease (GBS) is a bacteria that is carried by one in four pregnant women and is not threatening to women who are not pregnant. Most women who carry GBS never feel any symptoms. If left untreated or undetected, GBS can be responsible for meningitis, sepsis and in some cases, pneumonia in babies. Premature babies as well as babies that are delivered long after the water has broken (up to 18 hours) are at greater risk when the mother is a carrier.

What is Group B strep?

There are two kinds of group B strep, early-onset and late-onset. Babies with early-onset could potentially show symptoms as early as birth and into the first week of life. Early-onset is the more common type of GBS. Babies that have contracted late-onset can begin developing symptoms months after they are born. Symptoms for both early and late-onset include irritability, grunting, difficulty feeding and fever.

In extreme cases, babies may be permanently impaired by the disease and develop cerebral palsy or other developmental problems.

How can it be prevented?

The best way to prevent group B strep is for all pregnant women to get tested during the final weeks of pregnancy (usually at 35-37 weeks). The test is very simple and minimally invasive. Your doctor will swab the vagina and rectum to be tested for the bacteria, in some cases you can even do the swab yourself with instruction from your doctor. The swabs are then tested and results are usually given within two days. If the test comes back negative, no further measures will be necessary unless otherwise instructed by your physician. Testing positive does not mean your baby will have GBS.

About one in every 200 babies born to carrier mothers will show symptoms. Antibiotics will be given during labor through an IV to further ensure that the baby does not catch it. There are no antibiotics that can be given beforehand as the baby will be most likely to contract the disease during the birthing process when it is exposed to the mother’s fluid.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women get tested with each pregnancy. If you have further questions about GBS testing and prevention please contact our office at 770.720.7733 to make an appointment or contact us here.