Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterial infection that can be found in a pregnant woman’s vagina or rectum. This bacteria is normally found in the vagina and/or rectum of about 25% of all healthy, adult women. Women who test positive for GBS are said to be colonized. A mother can pass GBS to her baby during delivery. GBS affects about 1 in every 2,000 babies in the United States. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill. Although GBS is rare in pregnant women, the outcome can be severe. As such, physicians include testing as a routine part of prenatal care.
During a woman’s pregnancy, she will be tested for a wide variety of infections and diseases that she could pass to her unborn child during delivery. Group B Strep (GBS) is an infection that is present in the rectum, vagina or both. About 25 to 40 percent of woman are affected by this infection. Why woman contract this infection is unknown. It is not contracted sexually and doctors are still confused as to how a woman will get this infection because she never displays any symptoms of it. Group B strep infections can affect newborn babies and adults. Most pregnant women who are colonized by the bacteria have no symptoms. The infection can be spread to infants before or during birth. Signs and symptoms of GBS neonatal infection may include fever, breathing problems, seizures, lethargy, and poor feeding.
Typically, a woman will be tested for GBS between 35 to 37 weeks during her pregnancy. The doctor will get a swab sample of the area and send it off for testing. If the test comes back positive, the doctor will usually prescribe the woman antibiotics that will not affect her pregnancy. Along with antibiotics, the woman might also receive antibiotics through an IV during her delivery to reduce the chances of the infant contracting GBS. It is very important that a doctor screens a woman for GBS even though not every infant that is infected with GBS will experience side effects. By screening the pregnant mother, it will reduce the possibility of the baby contracting GBS.
Early onset GBS infections in newborns can often be prevented if infected pregnant women take intravenous (never by mouth) anti-bacterials when they are giving birth, typically when labor begins. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women be tested for GBS organisms in the vagina and rectum late in their pregnancy (during the 35th to 37th week). Unfortunately, treating the mother does not prevent late onset infections. When a physician does not screen or treat a woman with GBS, the infant is more prone to catch this infection. This is considered a form of medical malpractice because it is a test that must be administered during a woman’s pregnancy. An infant can develop a few dangers from GBS infection which is something that the firm located in Tampa has seen and dealt with through their time in practice.
What If I Test Positive For Group B Strep?
If you test positive for GBS, this simply means you are a carrier. Not every baby who is born to a mother who tests positive for GBS will become ill. Approximately 1 out of every 200 babies whose mothers carry GBS and are not treated with antibiotics will develop signs and symptoms of GBS. There are, however, symptoms that may indicate you are at a higher risk of delivering a baby with GBS.
These symptoms include:
- Labor or rupture of membranes before 37 weeks
- Rupture of membranes 18 hours or more before delivery
- Fever during labor
- A urinary tract infection as a result of GBS during your pregnancy
- A previous baby with GBS
In this case your physician will want to use antibiotics to protect your baby from contracting GBS during delivery.
According to the CDC, if you have tested positive and are not high risk, your chances of delivering a baby with GBS are:
- 1 in 200 if antibiotics are not given
- 1 in 4000 if antibiotics are given
How Can GBS Affect an Infant?
Group B strep may cause severe or fatal infections in newborn infants. Early-onset disease is the most serious. The bacteria may cause pneumonia or bloodstream infection (sepsis) or may infect the lining tissues of the brain, causing meningitis. Infected newborns are listless, don't feed well, and may have a condition called jaundice. An infant can develop different health problems if they are exposed to the Group B Strep. An infant can develop the following from GBS:
Sepsis: This is a life-threatening condition. Sepsis develops from the body’s response to fight off the infection. The body’s immune system overloads and instead harms the body.
Pneumonia: This condition can be life-threatening to infants. The air sacs of the lungs are affected on either side or both which can fill up with fluid.
Meningitis: Although rare, this condition could also be life-threatening to infants. The spinal cord and brain’s membranes inflame.
Stillborn Death: This means that the baby is born dead.
Jaundice: It causes the skin and membranes to look yellowish. Infected babies have trouble breathing and may have low blood pressure.
All of these medical conditions are life-threatening for an infant. Even with the best of care, a significant percentage of babies with early-onset infections die. Babies who have low birth weights are at highest risk for death. A physician needs to immediately treat a woman once they have tested positive for GBS.
Did Your Infant Get Infected by GBS?
Sometimes, contracting GBS is unavoidable. Other times, contracting GBS could have been avoided had the physician screened the mother and treated the mother accordingly. If a mother suspects that the contraction of GBS could have been prevented if it weren’t for a medical professional’s negligence, she should take action and fight for her child’s rights.
With more than 25 years of experience, Florida marital & family law attorney Steven R. Brenners provides exemplary legal service for family law cases.