Early labour treatment for Group B Strep
13th September 2017 – Women who go into early labour should be given antibiotics to protect their baby from a dangerous infection called Group B Streptococcal, say new guidelines.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) also wants pregnant women to be told about the signs and symptoms if their baby becomes infected.
Group B Streptococcus – which is also known as group B strep or GBS – is a common bacterium carried by up to 40% of adults, usually in the gut. Around a quarter of women carry GBS in the vagina, usually without symptoms or side-effects.
Pregnant women who carry GBS in their vagina may transmit the bacteria to their baby while giving birth. Most infected babies come to no harm but a small proportion develop an infection and can become seriously ill.
Increasing number of cases
Around 500 babies developed the condition in 2015, and the number of cases are increasing.
With prompt treatment, 17 out of 20 infected babies will make a full recovery but 2 out of 20 will be left with some disability and 1 in 20 will die.
Women are at a higher risk of passing GBS to their baby if they go into early labour. In 2015, 22% of all cases of early onset GBS – the most common infection that occurs in babies up to 6 days old – developed in babies born prematurely.
The new RCOG guidelines recommend that all women who go into preterm labour, regardless of whether their waters have broken, should be given intravenous antibiotics to prevent transmission of GBS.
Antibiotics are also recommended in cases where a woman has had a previous baby affected by GBS, a positive test for GBS during her pregnancy, prolonged rupture of membranes and a temperature of more than 38C during labour.
Peter Brocklehurst, professor of women's health at the University of Birmingham and a co-author of the guidelines, says in a statement: "In particular we hope to reduce the number of early onset Group B Strep infections and neonatal deaths in babies born before 37 weeks.
"The management of women whose babies are at raised risk of developing Group B Strep infection remains a vital part of reducing illness and deaths caused by this infection."
Professor Janice Rymer, vice president of education for the RCOG, adds: "The guideline also aims to raise awareness of GBS by recommending that all pregnant women are provided with an appropriate information leaflet, which the RCOG is now updating in line with this new guidance."
Jane Plumb, chief executive of the charity Group B Strep Support, comments in a statement: "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."