GBS : A life-threatening infections in newborns
Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterium that causes illness in
pregnant women, the elderly, and adults with other illnesses,
diabetes or liver disease. GBS is the most common cause of
life-threatening infections in newborns.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued new
recommendations calling for universal screening of pregnant women for group B
streptococci (GBS), a leading cause of illness and death among newborns.
How does a baby get infected with GBS infection?
There are two forms of GBS infection in infants:
Babies with an early-onset infection develop symptoms
within seven days of birth, most commonly within the first day of life, and
Late-onset- Babies with a late-onset infection develop symptoms between
seven days and three months of age.
About 80 percent of all GBS infections in newborns are early-onset.
Early-onset infections almost always are transmitted from mother to baby around
the time of delivery. Late-onset infections can be contracted at delivery or
acquired after birth from contact with the mother or other people who are GBS
If a pregnant woman carries the GBS bacterium in her vagina or rectum at the
time of labor and delivery, there is a 1-in-100 chance that her baby will become
sick from GBS infection. The risk rises to 4 percent if a pregnant woman carries
the bacterium and develops certain risk factors. These risk factors include:
preterm delivery before 37 weeks gestation); prolonged rupture of the membranes
(longer than 18 hours without delivering the baby); or fever (100.4° F or
higher) during labor. Other risk factors include having a previous pregnancy
resulting in a GBS-infected baby or having a urinary tract infection caused by
GBS. Doctors believe that babies who become sick with GBS infection take the
bacterium into their bodies by ingesting GBS-containing amniotic or vaginal
fluids during labor and delivery.
What are the symptoms of GBS infection in the newborn?
Babies with an early-onset infection suffer from one or more of the
following conditions: pneumonia, sepsis (blood infection) and, less commonly,
meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain). Babies with a
late-onset infection usually have sepsis or meningitis.
In spite of treatment with antibiotics, about 5 percent of babies with GBS die.
Preterm babies are more likely to die from the illness than are full-term
babies. Most babies who survive GBS go on to develop normally. However, among
those who develop meningitis, up to 50 percent suffer lasting neurologic damage
that can include cerebral palsy, sight and hearing loss, mental retardation,
learning disabilities and seizures.
Vaccine as preventive measure
In pregnant women, GBS can cause bladder infections, womb infections (amnionitis,
endometritis), and stillbirth.
Now there's hope on the horizon with the arrival of a vaccine to protect
newborns. The vaccine is active against the most common form of GBS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a special
devoted to Group B strep.