Group B Strep Awareness Month is celebrated in July every year and takes place to raise awareness of group B Strep, a type of bacteria in the streptococcal family of bacteria.
It is very common – up to 2 in 5 people have it in their body. Carrying group B Strep is normally harmless and most people won't realise they have it, but it can be a problem for pregnant women because it can lead to infection in their baby during labour and in the early weeks after birth - this happens in about 1 in 1,000 babies. But in most cases, the baby is fine and the infection rarely causes any problems.
To improve prevention of early-onset of group B Strep in newborns, the RCOG has developed guidance for clinicians and information for women, their partners and families. The guideline recommends all women who go into labour early before 37 weeks (preterm) receive intravenous antibiotics in labour, as well as women with other recognised 'risk factors'. These include the woman having previously had a baby who developed GBS infection, GBS detected during the current or previous pregnancy, fever in labour and waters having broken a long time before the baby is born. It also recommends all pregnant women should be provided with an information leaflet on group B Strep, jointly developed by the RCOG and charity Group B Strep Support.
To mark the awareness month, Tara Meakins from the RCOG spoke to Donna Gillum, who feared her newborn twin girls wouldn’t survive when they were diagnosed with group B Strep infection. The Burton-on-Trent mother said she had never heard of the infection when she gave birth preterm in May 2015.
"I had a great pregnancy, it was absolutely fine. My midwives and obstetrician had always planned to induce me early at 36 weeks because I was having twins. After a 13-hour labour, I gave birth to Lily and then Rosie 45 minutes later. But soon after birth Rosie’s breathing became really harsh-sounding.
"When we were back on the ward both of the girls were really agitated and they wouldn’t stop crying. It didn’t matter what we did, they were quite distressed and just cried all the time. At this point, Rosie was diagnosed with group B Strep infection and given antibiotics straight away. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that Lily started showing the same symptoms. She was given antibiotics and joined Rosie in the neonatal unit.
"A couple of days passed and Lily wasn’t getting any better because the antibiotics were not working. The paediatrician examined her and said that she was having brain seizures. She had developed group B Strep meningitis.
"Lily had lots of lumbar punctures and was really poorly so she was transferred to a specialist unit at another hospital. I couldn’t go with her because Rosie was still in an incubator. Lily was in a coma and crashed when she arrived at the hospital. We didn’t know if either of the girls would survive.
"We were in hospital for five weeks and it was really tough. Lily kept losing weight because any bit of food and nutrients she got went to fighting the infection. Eventually, she recovered from the meningitis but was left profoundly to severely deaf. At the newborn hearing test, Lily was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder, which means that sometimes she can hear and sometimes she can’t. It’s almost like a switch and we have no idea how long she will be able to hear for. It can be a few weeks, days or even just a few hours. We don’t know if the meningitis caused the Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder but it is a strong possibility.
"Until the girls were diagnosed with group B Strep infection, I had never heard of it and it wasn’t discussed during my antenatal appoints. No one else I know had heard of it either.
"I am so pleased that the RCOG has updated its Green-top Guideline on Group B Streptococcal Disease to ensure all pregnant women are given appropriate information about the infection in babies, including the signs. This will help raise awareness of group B Strep and give parents the opportunity to ask questions and discuss any concerns with their midwife or doctor.
"The updated guideline also recommends that women who go into labour before 37 weeks of pregnancy are given intravenous antibiotics in labour to reduce the chance of the baby developing group B Strep infection. I think this brilliant! Had I been given antibiotics when I was induced at 36 weeks, my little girls may have never have got the infection.
"In January this year, Lily had hearing implants fitted. She has taken to them really well, is starting to speak more words and is a much happier child. As a family, we went through the toughest time imaginable. I hope the updated guidance from RCOG gets people talking to ensure parents are aware of the signs of group B Strep infection and all preterm babies are given the best possible start in life."
The RCOG’s Green-top Guideline on Group B Streptococcal Disease, Early-onset provides guidance for obstetricians, midwives and neonatologists on the prevention of early-onset neonatal group B Streptococcal disease.
The RCOG’s patient information leaflet on Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in pregnancy and newborn babies provides advice for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant about group B streptococcus infection in newborn babies. It was developed in collaboration with Group B Strep Support.
NHS Choices on group B Strep provides information on what the infection is, the risks of carrying the infection in pregnancy, and group B Strep infection in babies.
Group B Strep Support (GBSS) is a UK charity dedicated to working to stop group B Strep infections, including meningitis, in babies. Its goal is to eradicated group B Strep infection in babies.