Group B strep (GBS) is a type of Streptococcus bacteria that can cause blood infections (sepsis), lung infections (pneumonia) and brain and spinal cord infections (meningitis), primarily in infants but also less frequently in adults. Because of the risk of pregnant mothers giving the infection to their babies during childbirth, the Vermont Department of Health recommends that all women be tested for group B strep when they are 35 to 37 weeks pregnant.
GBS is a common type of bacteria often found in the vagina and rectum of healthy women of all races and ethnicities. About one out of four women in the United States carry this type of bacteria. These bacteria can come and go naturally in the body. Babies can get infected with group B strep directly from their mothers and have symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, irritability, lethargy (sleepiness and lack of energy), and difficulty feeding. Sometimes babies who get meningitis from group B strep have long term problems such as deafness or developmental disabilities. Group B strep can be fatal if it is not treated.
Although many pregnant women carry the bacteria, they will often not have any symptoms or feel sick. To help prevent the spread of group B strep, women at weeks 35 to 37 of pregnancy should get a simple and painless test for the bacteria where their healthcare provider swabs the vagina and rectum. Due to the routine testing of pregnant women in the state, Vermont averages fewer than one infected newborn per year.
- If you test negative for GBS, you do not need to do anything more.
- If you test positive for GBS, talk with your doctor or midwife about a plan for labor.
- You will get IV antibiotics (medicine through the vein) during labor. If you are allergic to penicillin or other antibiotics, make sure to tell your doctor or midwife about any reactions you have had.
Continue your regular check-ups, and always call your doctor or midwife if you have any problems.
If you have not had the GBS test when labor starts, remind the staff that you do not know your GBS status.
- Go to the hospital and expect to get IV antibiotics (medicine through the vein) during labor. The antibiotics work best if you get them for at least 4 hours before you deliver.
- Tell the labor and delivery staff at the hospital that you tested positive for GBS.
- Tell the labor and delivery staff if you are allergic to penicillin.
Adults who have medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, a history of cancer, and obesity, are at increased risk of getting group B strep. Like with infants, group B strep can cause sepsis and pneumonia in adults as well as skin and soft-tissue infections and bone and joint infections.
If your health care provider suspects that you have a group B strep infection, a sample of your blood will be tested for the disease. If group B strep bacteria are identified, your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics. Some complications, such as soft tissue and bone infections, may need further treatment and possibly surgery.