Group B strep in pregnant women, newborns

JULY is International Group B Strep Awareness Month, a month used to bring awareness to the common bacterium often carried in the intestines or lower genital tract. The bacterium is usually harmless in healthy adults, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In newborns, however, it can cause a serious illness known as group B strep disease.

Rates of serious group B strep (GBS) infections are higher among newborns, the CDC added, but anyone can get GBS disease. Below are some important facts about GBS disease in babies, pregnant women, and others.


Among babies, there are two main types of GBS disease:

Early-onset — occurs during the first week of life.

Late-onset — occurs from the first week through three months of life.

GBS bacteria are a leading cause of meningitis and bloodstream infections in a newborn's first three months of life.

Early-onset disease used to be the most common type of GBS disease in babies. Today, because of effective early-onset disease prevention, early- and late-onset disease occur at similarly low rates.

Newborns are at increased risk for GBS disease if their mother tests positive for the bacteria during pregnancy.

Two to three in every 50 babies (four to six per cent) who develop GBS disease die.

Pregnant women

About one in four pregnant women carry GBS bacteria in their body.

Doctors should test pregnant woman for GBS bacteria when they are 36 through 37 weeks pregnant.

Giving pregnant women antibiotics through the vein (IV) during labour can prevent most early-onset GBS disease in newborns.

A pregnant woman who tests positive for GBS bacteria and gets antibiotics during labour has only a one in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will develop GBS disease. If she does not receive antibiotics during labour, her chance of delivering a baby who will develop GBS disease is one in 200.

Pregnant women cannot take antibiotics to prevent early-onset GBS disease in newborns before labour. The bacteria can grow back quickly. The antibiotics only help during labour.

Other ages and groups

GBS bacteria may come and go in people's bodies without symptoms.

On average, about one in 20 non-pregnant adults with serious GBS infections die.

The rate of serious group B strep disease increases with age — there are 10 cases in every 100,000 non-pregnant adults each year.

There are 25 cases in every 100,000 adults 65 years or older each year.

The average age of cases in non-pregnant adults is about 60 years old.

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