Group B Strep Awareness: Dr. Wendy Wagner · New Jersey Department of Health
Source: Centers For Disease Control
Bacteria called Group B Streptococcus (Group B strep, GBS) commonly live in your gastrointestinal and genital tracts. The gastrointestinal tract is the part of the body that digests food and includes the stomach and intestines. The genital tract is the part of the body involved in reproduction.
Most of the time, GBS bacteria are not harmful and do not make people feel sick or have any symptoms. But during birth, the bacteria can invade the newborn through the mother’s genital tract and cause serious infections, known as perinatal GBS diseases, which can be either Prenatal-onset (before birth); Early-onset (birth through the first week of life); Late-onset (over 1 week of age through several months of age).
The most common pernatal GBS diseases are bacteremia (bloodstream infections), sepsis (an extreme response to an infection), pneumonia (lung infection), and meningitis (infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord).
About 1 in 4 pregnant women carry GBS bacteria. Women who test positive for GBS are not sick, but are at increased risk for passing the bacteria to their babies during birth. There are factors that can increase a pregnant woman’s risk of having a baby who will develop GBS disease, including:
- Developing a fever during labor
- More than 18 hours between breaking water and giving birth
- Heart disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Cancer or history of cancer
GBS bacteria come and go naturally in people’s bodies, so you can test positive at some times but not others. That is why doctors test for GBS close to the time of delivery (36-37 weeks of pregnancy). The test is simple and does not hurt.
If the test for GBS is positive, babies can be protected from infection with intravenous antibiotics during labor — not sooner, because the bacteria can grow back quickly. Infected women who do not receive antibiotics are 20 times more likely to have a baby who develops GBS disease.