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Group B Streptococcus and Pregnancy

This page was reviewed or revised on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 4:06 PM

Fact Sheet
 


What is Group B Streptococcus?

Group B strep is a bacteria found in the vagina or lower intestine of almost 10-30% of women. Infections from Group B strep are usually not serious for the mother and can be treated with antibiotics. However, if these bacteria are passed onto the baby during childbirth it can cause serious problems.


How do babies get the Group B strep infection?

Babies are exposed to Group B strep during labour and delivery. They may also be exposed after a mother’s membranes rupture ("water breaks"). Babies become infected when they swallow or inhale the bacteria. It makes its way into the baby’s bloodstream and can infect the baby’s heart, lungs, and brain.


What are the symptoms of Group B strep?

Group B strep infection can appear in the baby in one of two ways:

  • Early onset disease (less than 7 days after birth) is characterized by bacterial infection in the baby’s bloodstream, which often leads to respiratory distress, periods of irregular breathing, shock, pneumonia and meningitis. Early onset disease has a death rate of about 50%. It is acquired before or during delivery, and occurs more frequently in low birth weight infants.
  • Late onset disease (one week to several months after birth) is characterized by bacterial infection in the baby’s bloodstream that often leads to meningitis. Late onset disease has a death rate of about 25% and is acquired by person-to-person contact and occurs in full term infants.


How do I know if I have Group B strep?

Your doctor can do a test for Group B strep by taking a simple vaginal swab during your prenatal visits. If you test positive, treatment is usually recommended around the 35th – 37th week of pregnancy.


Can Group B strep be treated?

Yes, it can be treated with antibiotics. If you have tested positive for Group B strep you will be given antibiotic treatment during labour. You will also receive antibiotic treatment if you experience any of the following:

  • Preterm labour (less than 37 weeks)
  • Prolonged rupture of membranes, (greater than 18 hours)
  • Maternal fever during labour (greater than 38°C oral temperature)
  • Previous delivery of a newborn with Group B strep infection


Talk to your doctor about getting tested for Group B strep even if you have had no complications during pregnancy. Many people carry Group B strep in their bodies but do not become ill and may not be aware that they are "carriers". That’s why it is critical that all pregnant women get tested so that all necessary precautions are taken to protect the baby.