The hidden risk to newborn babies
It is a potentially lethal infection for newborn babies, and carried by one in four pregnant women.
Yet few are informed about it, and the NHS does not routinely screen for it.
Which is why Group B Strep Support is tirelessly campaigning for the Government to act swiftly to save little lives.
Group B Streptococcus – also known as GBS or Group B Strep – is a bacteria which can be passed from mother to baby around the time of birth. Without preventative medecine, an estimated one in 300 infants could become ill.
That is 700 sick babies a year, of which 75 die and another 40 will suffer lifelong serious health problems.
The advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has been to give antibiotics in labour to high risk women. But without testing to discover who is a carrier, high risk cases will not be identified in time.
Expectant mums are tested at 34 weeks in many European countries, as well as the US, Canada and Australia.
But screening is not offered in the UK and there are no guidelines for midwives to discuss it with mums-to-be.
Currently, the only option available to women is a private test which costs around Â£32 – and that’s only if women are aware of the infection.
Bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington is backing the campaign by Group B Strep Support. He said: “We don’t know why some babies with Strep B die and others don’t.
“But what we do know is there is a risk.”
Most women have never heard of Group B Strep, or been informed of the risks.
A recent survey by Bounty Parenting Club discovered 42 per cent of women who were aware of Group B had learned about it from a magazine or book. Another 21 per cent were told by a friend or another mum.
Only a quarter were informed by a health professional.
So many women who are able to pay for a private test are being denied the option, by not even knowing about the infection.
Group B Strep Support’s chief executive Jane Plumb, who lost a child to the infection, said: “It is time for the Government to start thinking with its head, as well as its heart and offer pregnant women routine testing.”
While for most babies Group B Strep causes no problems, for others it can be deadly, leading to blood infection, meningitis and pneumonia.
It is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborns, whose immune systems are not developed enough to fight the bacteria.
As the baby gets older, the likelihood of Group B infection is uncommon.
Decisions about screening programmes are based on the advice of the UK National Screening Committee – which so far advises against systematic screening, but its policy is due to be re-examined in 2011/12.
At 35 weeks pregnant, Nadia Wright had to be induced, as scans revealed her babyâ€™s growth rate had slowed down.
Her son Brandon was born at 5.24pm on July 19, 2006 and at 5lbs 12oz, he appeared to be fine.
But two hours later he was put on a ventilator and stabilised, having suffered breathing difficulties.
By 3.30am the following day, Nadia and partner Scott Kyles, 25, were told their son had taken a turn for the worse.
Doctors were checking his heart and lungs and considering transferring him to a hospital better equipped to save his life.
An ambulance was called at 9am, and by this time a different doctor told the couple their son could have Group B Strep. An hour later, Brandonâ€™s heart rate had dropped so drastically, it was decided he wouldnâ€™t survive the journey
Nadia, who works for Tesco, said: â€œBrandon passed away at 10.15am, as we stood by in shock and floods of tears.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to leave him, and we were allowed to bath him and dress him, and stay with him until later that night.
â€œThe hospital photographer took pictures of him, and in the following days we were able to bring family to visit him.
â€œBut it was so unreal, to have lost our baby so suddenly and cruelly.
â€œIt was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, but instead my parents were helping to arrange their grandsonâ€™s funeral.â€
A post mortem later confirmed Group B Strep had caused pneumonia and sepsis, which led to Brandonâ€™s death.
Nadia, from Dundee, was assured in her next pregnancy that she and her baby would be given antibiotics in labour. She and Scott are now the proud parents of two-year-old Zach.
Nadia said: â€œZach was the double of Brandon when he was born – just a bigger version.
â€œWe constantly talk about Zachâ€™s big brother, and tell him heâ€™s in the sky with the angels.
â€œI was really angry when I looked into Group B Strep, and found out how easily it could have been prevented.
â€œFor medical professionals to ignore something like this, itâ€™s just really terrible.â€
* For more information on Group B Strep, check out www.gbss.org.uk or call Group B Strep Support on 01444 416176
Image (c) Daniel Morris via Flickr