July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month, and our team at CWC wants to make sure every mom and/or mom-to-be out there understands what Group B strep is. Group B Strep, also known as Streptococcus agalactiae, is a naturally occurring bacteria found in the digestive system and reproductive tract of men and women. Approximately 25% of all healthy women are considered carriers for Group B Strep, which means that if they become pregnant, they may pass the infection to their child. Group B Strep can cause serious health issues for unborn and newborn children. Doctors recommend that you familiarize yourself with the infection, so that you can protect yourself and your children.
4 Things You Need to Know
- You will be tested for GBS during pregnancy
At your first prenatal visit, your physician should take a urine culture for GBS and other bacteria. If your urine tests positive for GBS, you are considered “heavily colonized” and your doctor should consider you as “GBS colonized” for the duration of your pregnancy.If your urine culture is negative for GBS, you should also be tested between 35-37 weeks during each pregnancy. Instead of a urine test, this test will be run via a vaginal and rectal swab.
- You can protect your baby from GBS
If you have tested positive for GBS, your doctor can help you take steps to protect your baby from the infection during delivery. You may be prescribed antibiotics via IV during your delivery. In order for the antibiotics to be fully effective, they need to be administered at least four hours before delivery begins.In addition to GBS-specific preventions, you should also practice other infection prevention methods while pregnant. This includes frequently washing your hands, avoiding contact with anyone else’s bodily fluid, avoiding raw or undercooked food, keeping up to date on all of your immunizations, and attending all your prenatal care visits.
- There are three types of perinatal GBS disease
In you tested GBS positive, you run the risk of passing on the infection to your baby. However, because babies’ immune systems are not fully developed in the first few months of life, they are also at risk for picking up the infection somewhere else. There are three types of GBS disease that may affect newborns, and each has different symptoms and treatments.
- Before birth (prenatal-onset GBS disease): If your urine culture shows a GBS urinary tract infection, your physician should have prescribed you oral antibiotics to manage the infection. GBS may cause infection or preterm labor in some pregnancies.
- Birth through first week of life (early-onset GBS disease):IV antibiotics in labor have drastically lowered the cases of early-onset GBS in the US, but if you are GBS-positive, you should familiarize yourself with the signs of infections in babies, so that you can contact your baby’s pediatrician at the earliest sign of trouble. Some of those signs include:
- Fast, slow, or difficulty breathing
- Listless, floppy, or not moving arm or leg
- Projectile vomiting
- Blotchy, red, or tender skin
- Sleeping too much, difficulty being aroused
- Tense or bulgy spot on top of the head
- Over one week of age through several months of age (late-onset GBS disease): Even if you are not GBS-positive, your baby can become infected from another source. Be alert for signs of infection like those listed above and call your baby’s pediatrician immediately if you notice anything strange. GBS is fast acting and a healthy baby can become critically ill within hours. If left untreated, GBS can cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, breathing problems, heart and lungs instability, and gastrointestinal and kidney problems.
- Other symptoms of GBS may vary
You may experience vaginal burning and itching or unusual discharge if you are GBS positive. However, most women do not experience symptoms with Group B Strep. Despite not displaying symptoms, you can still be a carrier for GBS, which means that you can pass it to your baby. GBS testing is routinely done in pregnancy and your obstetrician will perform the appropriate testing as recommended by the American College of Ob/Gyn and the CDC. If you are interested in learning more about being an advocate for GBS awareness, visit the Group B Strep International Awareness page to start the conversation.