Group B streptococcus or GBS, also known as group B strep, is a bacterium that can cause some serious complications, especially, in newborns, those with weakened immunity, and the elderly. This bacteria occurs in the intestinal and lower genital tract. In normal healthy adults, it will not give rise to any complications, and the condition is asymptomatic. However, in the case of pregnant women, the bacteria can sometimes infect the vagina and can pass on to the fetus, causing complications in pregnancy or in the newborn.
A group B strep test is a standard part of prenatal care, as a detected infection can be treated with antibiotics to prevent its subsequent transmission to the fetus. This bacterium should not be confused with group A streptococcus, which gives rise to strep throat. The following paragraphs outline some information regarding the occurrence and treatment procedures for this condition.
Test During Pregnancy
Women who show positive results in a group B strep test are said to be ‘colonized’, essentially indicating that they carry the bacteria, but face no health contraindications as a result. The incidence of this bacteria can significantly increase the chances of still birth or neonatal illnesses, that can pose a threat to life. Screening during pregnancy can help in timely detection, and treatment can be undertaken before it can affect the fetus. Most obstetricians recommend that the test be performed at 35 to 37 weeks in the third trimester of pregnancy. However, should you be at high risk, you will be automatically treated when you go into labor. The following are three situations that put you into a high risk category:
- If you have previously had a baby with GBS
- If you have contracted a urinary tract infection owing to GBS
- Labor before 37 weeks
The test procedure is fairly simple. It involves a swab taken of both the vagina and the rectum, which is sufficient to establish the presence of the bacteria. Positive results on the test does not automatically mean that the fetus will develop GBS, it means that you are a carrier of the bacteria. The risk of fetal bacterial infection stands at about 1 in every 100 – 200 babies. To avoid the possibility of this condition, obstetricians recommend that women who are at a high risk, be treated with antibiotics even prior to positive results on the test. In addition, if you are not in the high risk category, the chances of having a baby with this disease drop to 1 in 4000 if antibiotics are administered. If your test is positive and you are at high risk, your obstetrician may recommend intravenous antibiotics through labor and childbirth to prevent infection passing on to the fetus. Should the results on the test be negative, no action needs to be taken.
In newborns, this syndrome can result in a number of conditions, of which sepsis or infection of the bloodstream is the most common, followed by meningitis and pneumonia. These conditions generally manifest within a week of birth, and are referred to as ‘early onset’. Some babies may also develop associated conditions a few months after birth, wherein it is referred to as late onset.
A group B strep test is an important part of prenatal care. Speak with your health care provider about the implications of this test, and clarify any doubts that may arise. Also, make sure you inform them about any pre-existing conditions, which may influence your health or the health of your baby. Once you understand the possibilities and discuss them clearly, you will be better armed to deal with the situation. Good luck!