February is ‘International prenatal infection prevention‘ month. The aim is to raise awareness of prenatal infections, such as group B Strep, which is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and of meningitis in babies up to the age of three months.

It is more common than spina bifida and as common as Down’s syndrome, yet few pregnant women have heard of it.

Over 500 babies a year in the UK are infected with group B Strep.

And, in the UK, the number of newborn babies developing group B Strep infection is rising – up by 38% since the UK introduced prevention measures in 2003.

Prenatal Infection Prevention

Baby charity Group B Strep Support is urging pregnant women to make sure they’re aware of group B Strep (GBS or Strep B), and the risk it can pose to their baby.

Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, causing sepsis and pneumonia, and of meningitis in babies under 3 months. Carried normally by one in every four women, the group B Strep bacteria can pass from a pregnant woman to her baby around birth with potentially devastating consequences for the baby.

On average in the UK:

  • One baby a day develops group B Strep infection
  • One baby a week dies from group B Strep infection
  • One baby a fortnight survives group B Strep infection but is left with long-term disabilities

Yet, unlike most other developed countries, health professionals in the UK rarely tell pregnant women about GBS and even more rarely offers pregnant women sensitive testing* for it.

Group B Strep is a normal bacterium carried by around 25% of women. Rarely a risk to women, it can be passed onto baby around labour and birth with potentially devastating consequences for the newborn baby.

Other countries, which routinely offer pregnant women testing have seen rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies fall dramatically – by up to 86%. 

If group B Strep is detected during the current pregnancy, UK guidelines recommend that Mum should be offered intravenous (through a vein) antibiotics from the start of labour and at regular intervals until delivery. This is highly effective at reducing the risk of the newborn baby developing group B Strep infection.

Group B Strep Support - #GBSAware

The only easy and reliable way to find out whether or not a pregnant woman is carrying group B Strep is by purchasing a home-testing pack privately (under £40 per test). The laboratories listed at www.gbss.org.uk offer the sensitive test for GBS carriage, following the UK standard – unlike the large majority of NHS trusts.

National charity Group B Strep Support campaigns for greater awareness of group B Strep in new and expectant parents and wants every pregnant woman in the UK to be given accurate information about group B Strep as a routine part of antenatal care, coupled with the offer of testing for group B Strep carriage at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy.