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GBS : A life-threatening infections in newborns

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacterium that causes illness in newborn babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and adults with other illnesses, such as diabetes or liver disease. GBS is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborns.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued new recommendations calling for universal screening of pregnant women for group B streptococci (GBS), a leading cause of illness and death among newborns.

How does a baby get infected with GBS infection?

There are two forms of GBS infection in infants:

  • Early-onset-
    Babies with an early-onset infection develop symptoms within seven days of birth, most commonly within the first day of life, and

  • Late-onset- Babies with a late-onset infection develop symptoms between seven days and three months of age.

About 80 percent of all GBS infections in newborns are early-onset. Early-onset infections almost always are transmitted from mother to baby around the time of delivery. Late-onset infections can be contracted at delivery or acquired after birth from with the mother or other people who are GBS carriers.

If a pregnant woman carries the GBS bacterium in her vagina or rectum at the time of labor and delivery, there is a 1-in-100 chance that her baby will become sick from GBS infection. The risk rises to 4 percent if a pregnant woman carries the bacterium and develops certain risk factors. These risk factors include: preterm delivery before 37 weeks gestation); prolonged rupture of the membranes (longer than 18 hours without delivering the baby); or fever (100.4 F or higher) during labor. Other risk factors include having a previous pregnancy resulting in a GBS-infected baby or having a urinary tract infection caused by GBS. Doctors believe that babies who become sick with GBS infection take the bacterium into their bodies by ingesting GBS-containing amniotic or vaginal fluids during labor and delivery.

What are the symptoms of GBS infection in the newborn?

Babies with an early-onset infection suffer from one or more of the following conditions: pneumonia, sepsis (blood infection) and, less commonly, meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain). Babies with a late-onset infection usually have sepsis or meningitis.

In spite of treatment with antibiotics, about 5 percent of babies with GBS die. Preterm babies are more likely to die from the illness than are full-term babies. Most babies who survive GBS go on to develop normally. However, among those who develop meningitis, up to 50 percent suffer lasting neurologic damage that can include cerebral palsy, sight and hearing loss, mental retardation, learning disabilities and seizures.

Vaccine as preventive measure

In pregnant women, GBS can cause bladder infections, womb infections (amnionitis, endometritis), and stillbirth.

Now there's hope on the horizon with the arrival of a vaccine to protect newborns. The vaccine is active against the most common form of GBS.

For more-

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a special devoted to Group B strep.

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