Very positive news this month that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has updated its guidelines to recommend that women who go into labour before 37 weeks should routinely be given antibiotics as a precaution against Group B Strep (GBS).
GBS is a potentially deadly infection which, if left untreated, can also cause catastrophic health problems including sepsis, cerebral palsy, meningitis and pneumonia in new-born babies.
About one in four women unknowingly carries GBS bacteria, which usually causes no symptoms or side effects and can live harmlessly in the lower vaginal tract. It can however be passed on to the baby during delivery.
If caught early and treated, most babies make a full recovery but pregnant women in the UK are not routinely been tested for GBS and are often not informed about the condition.
According to the GBS website, Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in new-born babies in the UK. At least 10 babies a week are infected by the bacteria and, despite medical care, one in 10 will die. When antibiotics are offered during labour to women who are carrying GBS, 90 per cent of these infections can be prevented.
The updated RCOG guidelines recommend pregnant women should be given information about the condition to raise awareness.
They also say that a woman who goes into labour before 37 weeks should be offered antibiotics as a precaution, even if her waters have not broken and the amniotic sac is still intact. The guidelines also recommend that women who have previously tested positive for GBS in pregnancy can be tested at 35 to 37 weeks in subsequent pregnancies to see if they also need antibiotics in labour.
The guidelines do not go as far as recommending routine screening of mothers-to-be since the RCOG says there is no clear evidence that this would be beneficial.
Group B Strep facts
- GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease. Treating a woman carrying GBS does not prevent these normal bacteria from returning.
- A woman who has it will not usually have symptoms or side-effects.
- Testing is the only way to find out if you are carrying GBS.
- Pregnant women found to have GBS can take steps to reduce the risk to their baby.