Group B Streptococcus (GBS) are common bacteria ( Streptococcus agalactiae) which are often found in the vagina, intestinal tract or urinary bladder of up to 30% of women. Infections from GBS are not usually serious for a woman but can be passed on to the baby during the birthing process, although most babies will not be affected by the GBS. If a baby becomes ill within the first six days of life it is known as ‘early onset disease’. If a baby becomes ill between 7 – 28 days after birth this is called late onset disease. Although very rare, infection can take hold up to 3months after birth.
Early-onset disease is normally passed on during birth and is the more common type of disease in babies.
Late-onset is usually 7-28days to after birth.
Group B strep most commonly causes septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis. Meningitis is more commonly associated with late-onset GBS disease than with early-onset group B strep disease. It is thought the late-onset GBS (7-28days after birth ) is contracted through contact between a baby and hands contaminated with GBS.
For both early and late-onset group B strep disease, babies who survive meningitis can unfortunately suffer after effects. These affects can range from mild to severe disabilities , some may improve with time although unfortunately some may not.
Signs and symptoms of Meningitis and septicaemia in babies include:
- Very irritable especially when held
- High pitch cry which increases when baby held
- Bulging fontanelle – soft spot on babies head
- Floppy limbs
- High or Low temperature
- Extreme shivering
- Photophobia-dislike of bright lights
- Cold hands and feet
- Stiff or rigid neck
- Fast shallow breathing
- Lethargic- hard to wake
- Seizures – uncontrollable jerky movements
- Refusing feeds
- Skin rash – spots do not fade when a glass tumbler pressed against it.
GBS is not routinely tested for in Ireland or in the UK, as a result it doesn’t come up in antenatal care . There is a risk factor approach in Ireland to treating GBS during labour:
- If you carry Group B Strep in your body
- If you’ve had a previous baby infected with Group B Strep
- If you have a multiple pregnancy
- Premature labour
- If waters have remained broken for more than 18hours
- High temperature during labour
- You have a temperature in labour
- If baby’s heart rate is high throughout labour
If you would like more information on GBS please contact your local GP or health care centre. If you have been affected by meningitis and feel you would like to talk or share your story please contact us at 091-380058 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nobody should have to face the journey alone.