Women who go into labour before 37 weeks of pregnancy should be offered antibiotics to prevent the onset of Group B Streptococcal (GBS), say new guidance.

According to updated information published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), as well as being offered antibiotics for Group B Strep, pregnant women should also be provided with information about GBS and the signs of an infection in babies.

What is GBS?

GBS is the most frequent cause of severe infection in babies less than seven days old (early-onset).

Many babies come into contact with GBS during birth as it is a common bacteria found in the vagina and bowel of at least 2 in 10 women in the UK. Normally it causes no harm, but in a small number of cases babies can develop an infection and become seriously ill.

Recent evidence has suggested that early onset GBS appears to be becoming more common in the UK. In 2015 around 500 babies were diagnosed with the condition.

With speedy treatment, 17 out of 20 newborn babies diagnosed with a GBS infection make a full recovery. Sadly, however, two in 20 babies will be left with some form of disability, and one in 20 babies will die.

Women are at higher risk of passing GBS onto their baby if they go into labour before 37 weeks; nearly a quarter (22%) of all cases of early-onset GBS in 2015 were premature babies.

Premature babies are also 10 times more likely to die from the condition.

Jane Plumb, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support, said:

“We welcome this major update to the RCOG’s clinical guidance which represents a significant improvement in the procedure to prevent Group B Strep infection in newborn babies. When fully implemented across the UK, we believe this change will make a real difference and we will see the rate of infections start to fall.”

Signs and symptoms of GBS in babies

Symptoms of early-onset GBS infection include:

  • Rapid breathing or stopping breathing;
  • Making grunting sounds;
  • Poor feeding;
  • Being abnormally drowsy (lethargic);
  • Being irritable;
  • High/low temperature;
  • High/low heart rate;
  • Low blood pressure;
  • Low blood sugar;
  • Pale, blotchy skin.

Most babies with an early-onset GBS infection will show symptoms within the first 12 hours after birth.

Babies showing signs of GBS infection should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.

Information taken from gbss.org.uk