Group B strep

Group B strep (strep B) usually live harmlessly inside the digestive system and inthe vagina.

Strep B can sometimes cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) , skin infections, bone infections, blood infections and pneumonia, particularly in vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with diabetes.

Strep B in pregnancy

It's estimated around one in every fourpregnant women have strep B bacteria in their vagina or digestive system.

Thebacteria can sometimes be passed on to the baby through the amniotic fluid (a clear liquid that surrounds and protects the unborn baby in the womb) or as the baby passes through the birth canal during labour.

Mostbabies exposed to strep B will be unaffected, but in around1 in every 2,000 cases they can become infected.

A strep B infectionduring pregnancy can alsocause miscarriage or stillbirth , but this is rare.

Strep B in newborn babies

As newborn babies have a poorly developed immune system, strep B bacteria can quickly spread through their body, causing serious infections such as meningitis and pneumonia.

The symptoms of a strep B infection in a newborn baby usually develop within the first few hours or days of giving birth, andinclude:

  • being floppy and unresponsive
  • poor feeding
  • grunting when breathing
  • irritability
  • an unusually high or low temperature
  • unusually fast or slow breathing
  • an unusually fast or slow heart rate

In some cases, a baby canpick upa strep B infection a few weeks or months after birth. It's not known exactly why this happens, but it's notrelated to infection during birth. Symptoms ofa late-onset group B strep infection can includea fever, poor feeding, vomiting and reduced consciousness.

You should seek immediate medical advice if you think your baby may have agroup B strep infection.

Preventing and treating strep B infections in babies

It's possible to reduce thechances of a baby becoming infected with strep B by identifying cases where there is a risk of the bacteria being passed from a mother to their child and giving the mother antibiotics directly into a vein (intravenously) during labour.

Known risk factors that may mean you needintravenous antibiotics during labour include:

  • you have previously given birth to a baby with a strep B infection
  • strep B is found in your urine during tests carried out for other purposes
  • strep B is found during vaginal and rectal swabs carried out for other purposes
  • you have afever during labour
  • you go into labour prematurely(before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

If your baby develops symptoms of a strep B infection after they're born, they will have tests to confirm the diagnosis and will be givenintravenous antibiotics as soon as possible.

Most babies who become infected can be treated successfully and will make a full recovery, although there is chance they could die as a result of complications such as meningitis. Some babies who survive are left with permanent problems, such as hearing loss , vision loss , and problems with memory and concentration.

Further information:

  • Is my unborn baby at risk of early-onset group B Streptococcus infection?
  • What are the risks of group B Streptococcus infection during pregnancy?
  • Group B Strep Support: what is group B strep?
Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018