Streptococcus or strep is the name of a large group of bacterial infections, but they are often divided into Group A strep (GAS) or Group B strep (GBS). Both adults and children can get GBS but it is particularly dangerous to newborn or nursing babies. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about 25% of all American women have the strep B bacteria in their vaginas or rectums.
Both men and women carry GBS bacteria in their digestive systems. If left untreated, a newborn one week old or less with GBS often develops meningitis or a blood infection and dies. Fortunately, GBS is preventable in newborns and treatable in adults.
In adults, GBS causes pneumonia, blood infections and serious infections in other areas of the body.
Symptoms include fever, chills despite the fever, severe fatigue, cough, problems breathing, chest pain, breathing more rapidly due to pneumonia or pain. If one or more joints are infected, there will be swelling, pain, drainage or pus, difficultly in moving the joint and reddening of the skin. The area feels warmer than unaffected areas.
Pregnant women with GBS often suffer from fever, fever during labor, urinary tract infections and at 37 weeks often have their water break. Newborns have trouble breathing, develop meningitis, fever and suffer digestive and liver problems. Heartbeat is irregular and may be fast.
The group B strep bacterium is naturally carried inside the body. It is not caused by sexual contact or by eating or drinking after an infected person. The bacteria does not generally cause any problem, so many people are not aware that they have it or that they could potentially transmit it to others.
One of the main dangers of this bacterium is the spread of it to babies during a vaginal delivery. A mother who is infected can spread the infection to the baby if the baby swallows bodily fluids or is otherwise exposed to them. Those who have weaker immune systems, such as infants and the elderly, are most at risk of developing group B strep disease. A baby can contract it from an infected mother with a placenta and amniotic fluid that are infected, or if the mother’s water has been broken for more than 18 hours before the birth, or if the baby is born at fewer than 37 weeks gestation. If the mother has a high fever during labor, this is another risk factor. In adults, having a medical condition such as HIV or diabetes that weakens the immune system is a risk factor. Many patients are those who live in nursing homes.
Both adults and babies need antibiotics such as penicillin to kill the BGS bacteria. Pregnant women should get a GBS test when they reach 35, 36 or 37 weeks. If the test is positive then antibiotics can be taken by the woman.
WARNING: Penicillin and ampicillan are normal treatments for GBS. If patient is allergic to penicillin, tell all doctors and nurses before taking any medication. Often if a patient is allergic to one member of the penicillin family, he or she is allergic to all of the other members of the penicillin family.
While there is not yet a vaccine for group B strep, the condition is treatable with antibiotics. During pregnancy, women should be tested for group B strep bacteria and treated if the test is positive. Babies should also be tested for infection and treated immediately if the test results are positive. Treatments are highly effective and can be finished quickly. Mothers who are found to be positive can still breastfeed their babies if there is a treatment in place for this bacterial infection. Getting quick treatment is the key to preventing the disease from developing in babies.