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Why You Should Know About Group B Strep

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If you have been pregnant before, you may remember getting a group B streptococcus (GBS) test. This is, generally, the first time many people hear about this common bacteria. Although it is considered to be unharmful to the general population, and having it means that you are simply a carrier, it can be dangerous for newborns and adults with compromised immune systems.

What is GBS?

GBS can be found within the gut and, in women, in the vagina. Even though it shares a similar name to the more common streptococcus A strain (the one that causes strep throat), it’s actually completely different. Group B comes and goes within the body, so you may not always have it present in your system. Much of the time it’s not harmful, and there are no obvious symptoms. Newborns are the most at-risk for infection from this bacteria, and they contract it through contact with their infected mother. Adults who have a compromised immune system and become infected with GBS can also develop a host of dangerous conditions.

GBS in babies

Babies may contract either early-onset or late-onset GBS. Pregnant mothers are tested for GBS at about 36 to 38 weeks gestation and, if found positive, are given a round of antibiotics intravenously during labor and delivery in hopes that this will prevent infection in Baby. Unfortunately, strep B grows quickly, so antibiotics taken before labor begins are not helpful in preventing the spread. 

If babies have early onset GBS, they may show symptoms within the first week of life. Late-onset, on the other hand, occurs anywhere from the first week to three months of life. Either way, GBS is harmful to newborns’ systems, causing diseases such as meningitis or blood stream infections. These can be fatal, and about two to three babies out of every 50 who are infected die. Death rates are lower now than in the past because doctors are more skilled in monitoring infants for early onset GBS and preventing infection in the first place through antibiotics. 

GBS in adults

As was mentioned before, most people who have this strain of strep in their system will be asymptomatic and completely unaware of their infection. However, in adults with compromised immune systems or serious underlying medical conditions, GBS and its associated infections can be dangerous or even fatal. Soft tissues and skin are generally at risk, and blood infections, pneumonia, or urinary tract infections can also result. On a more dangerous level, strep B can, rarely, cause meningitis, bone infections, or sepsis.

Penicillin to the rescue!

In both newborns and adults, early recognition and treatment are vital in ensuring that GBS does not become a more serious infection. Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice when treating GBS. If a mother tests positive, she will receive it during labor and delivery intravenously to help protect her child, and Baby will be monitored after birth. Adults must take a full course of penicillin in order to kick the bacteria from their system. Most infections are treated successfully, especially when it comes to adults. 

Although there is no sure way to prevent the contracting of group B strep, it is important, especially for pregnant women, to be tested. This form of prevention and treatment has been successful in ensuring that babies born to infected mothers do not contract it or become infected during birth. Treatment, once detected, is key in any situation involving GBS, so make sure to contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns about this common bacteria.

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