Pregnant women are especially prone to many different illnesses as they carry their babies to term. Not only can these illnesses be harmful to the mother; they also have the potential to be passed on to the growing baby. Group B streptococcus, or GBS, is a type of bacteria that can be found in up to 40% of pregnant women. Although not usually harmful, this bacteria is oftentimes passed from the mother to the baby, which can be potentially life-threatening. The following common questions are designed to help you learn the facts about GBS and what it means to you and your growing child.
WHAT IS GBS?
GBS is a type of bacteria that is found in the digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts. It is one of the many types of bacteria that are usually harmless and not the cause of serious illnesses. GBS is not to be confused with A streptococcus, which causes strep throat. When a person has the bacteria but is not sick, they are said to be “colonized”. Being colonized is not usually dangerous to a woman. However, in pregnant women that are colonized, GBS can be passed onto the baby, which could be potentially serious. Because GBS is usually harmless to women, there may be no symptoms, meaning a woman could potentially unknowingly spread the bacteria to her child. This is why every pregnant woman will be tested for GBS at about 36 weeks of pregnancy.
WHAT EFFECTS COULD IT HAVE ON MY BABY?
Infections in the baby could occur both during pregnancy and after delivery. However, this is still rare, happening to only 1 or 2 babies out of every 100.
- Early Infections: They occur within the first week of birth, if not in the first few hours directly afterward. This indicates that the disease was transferred during the delivery.
- Late Infections: These infections often occur when the baby is in the womb, and is passed through the mother’s body.
Both early and late infections both can have serious effects on your baby’s health. Inflammation of the baby’s blood, spinal cord, lungs, or brain could occur, which could cause many different serious permanent effects, even leading to death in about 5% of infected babies. Breathing, kidney, and intestine problems are also complications, as well as sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia.
HOW CAN I TEST TO MAKE SURE I DON’T HAVE GBS?
There are quick and easy tests that are available for GBS. Mothers will have a vaginal culture taken by their doctor at approximately 36 weeks to ensure the mother is not colonized. The doctor will collect samples from your vagina, perineum, and rectum with a swab, which will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. Test results are usually available in several days. However, in early pregnancy, the tests are not always useful, as changes to your body may occur during these trimesters.
HOW CAN I BE TREATED IF I HAVE GBS?
In the hospital during delivery, you will receive IV antibiotics specific for this bacteria, so if you are GBS positive, it is important you get to the hospital as soon as possible once your water breaks.
Although GBS is fairly common in healthy women, it is not certain you will be a carrier for the bacteria. If you test positive for GBS, antibiotics will be given during labor to prevent exposure to the baby.