Are you about to bring your bundle of joy into the world but are worried about the various infections associated with pregnancy? Have you heard about the group B strep in pregnancy and would want to safeguard your and your baby’s health?
While you are pregnant, you are at your most vulnerable. So, it is natural for certain infections to creep up on you, but being aware of them can get you timely help! Here, we look at one such infection, the group B streptococcus infection, its symptoms and its treatment methods.
What Is Group B Streptococcus?
The group B streptococcus is also known as group B strep. Even though it may sound the same, it is not the same condition that leads to strep throat. The group B strep, or GBS, is one of the many types of bacteria that are already present inside your body. Almost 1/3rd of all people have the group B strep bacteria in their digestive tract without even being aware of it while almost a quarter of all women have the bacteria in the vagina. The bacteria can also be found in a woman’s urinary bladder. In any case, most people are not aware that they do have the group B strep bacteria, as there are usually no symptoms to go with the same.
According to data from the American Pregnancy Association, about 25 percent of healthy and adult females have the group B strep bacteria present in their vagina or their rectum. In the United States, group B strep affects about 1 in every 2000 babies that are born. Even though a woman may be tested as colonized for group B strep, it is not necessary that the baby will also catch the bacteria or get infected.
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While you may have the group B strep bacteria in your system and not be aware of it, it could lead to an infection in the case that it reaches your uterus, your kidneys or your bladder. If you do get an infection due to the Strep B bacteria, it will result in pain as well as inflammation.
If you do have the bacteria present in your vagina and rectum but are not aware of the same due to a lack of symptoms, you will be characterized as being colonized, or positive. Doctors estimate that almost 15 to 40 percent women are group B strep colonized (1).
[ Read: Infections During Pregnancy ]
How Can You Contract Group B Streptococcus In Pregnancy?
While it is sometimes mistaken as a sexually transmitted diseases, especially as it is found in the vagina and rectum, group B strep is not a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, the bacteria that causes the group B strep infection is already present in your vagina, in your rectum and even in your intestines.
Can Group B Streptococcus Infection During Pregnancy Affect The Newborn?
You may have the group B strep bacteria present in your body before pregnancy. However, rest assured that it does not cause any side effects or pose any health threats, and you will almost always never realize it is there. However, once you become pregnant, the entire health angle for the same changes, as there is no sure shot way that will make sure that to prevent the infection from passing on to your baby.
Even though it is rare, there is always the health scare that your gbs infection during pregnancy can pass to your baby at the time of birth. The health scare is severe, as, in most cases when the bacteria do pass on, it may result in infant death despite giving proper medical care. It is estimated that about 40 to 70 percent pregnant women who are group B strep colonized will pass on the bacteria to their babies at the time of birth. Most babies will not be affected with the same, but about one to two percent of these newborn babies will get affected and catch the group B strep infection. The infection can have varying effects on the newborn, ranging from mild to severe. It will affect the newborn baby’s blood, spinal cord, brain and even the lungs. There is no single diagnosis method or treatment plan that can help prevent the infection from spreading or resulting in an infant’s death. However, the doctors may try out some diagnosis plans and treatment options to minimize the risk that the infection can cause.
Diagnosing Group B Streptococcus During Pregnancy:
As there are no symptoms that will present themselves with the group B strep bacteria, it is often quite difficult to determine whether or not you have the same, especially when you are pregnant. Here are a few tips you can follow that will help you to find out whether or not you are positive for the group B streptococcus:
- To avoid any complications later at the time of birth, it is advisable that you go for a routine group B screening once you know that you are pregnant, or when you are planning to conceive.
- Most hospitals and healthcare centers have also made it mandatory to conduct routine group B strep screenings for pregnant women. The routine screening occurs when you are between your 35thand your 37thweek of pregnancy.
- For the group b strep test during pregnancy, the doctor will first take a swab from your vagina as well as from your rectum. The sample will then be tested in the lab to analyze the culture, which will help to find out if there are any group B strep bacteria present in it or not.
- Once you have given the sample, it will take about 24 to 48 hours for the results to come back.
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if you have any risk factor even before you are being screened for group B strep bacteria, such as if you are getting into preterm labor even before you have reached your 37th week of pregnancy, you should be given IV antibiotics till the results of your group B strep test are back.
[ Read: E-Coli Infection During Pregnancy ]
If You Test Positive For Group B Streptococcus While You Are Pregnant?
It is possible that your test may come back as a positive and that you are affected with gbs infection during pregnancy. While it can surely cause a lot of worry and anxiety, do remember that not all babies whose mothers have the group B strep infection while they are pregnant will get it. In most cases, when a woman is pregnant and has the group B strep infection, but does not take any antibiotics for the same, has a chance of passing on the same to her baby at the time of birth. Here are a few symptoms of gbs during pregnancy that can indicate if you are at a higher risk of passing on the group B strep infection to your baby at the time of birth:
- If you get into labor before your 37 weeks of pregnancy are complete, or if you have a rupture of membranes before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- If your membranes have ruptured at least 18 hours or more before the delivery.
- You have a fever while you are in labor.
- You had an earlier pregnancy and delivery through which you had a baby who was also diagnosed as having the group B strep infection.
- If you already have group B strep infection, and it has caused a urinary tract infection while you are pregnant.
- In case you have any of the symptoms that are mentioned above, your doctor will suggest that you immediately start a course of antibiotics. Doing so will help to protect your baby from getting the group B strep infection at the time of birth.
If you have tested positive for group B strep infection and are not at a high risk (which your doctor will tell you about), here are the chances that your baby may have the infection at the time of birth:
- A 1 in 200 chance if you are not given any antibiotics
- A 1 in 4000 chance if you are given antibiotics
[ Read: Common Viral Infections During Pregnancy ]
Preventing Getting Group B Streptococcus Infection In Your Baby:
Once you have gone through your routine screening for gbs during pregnancy, your doctor will also assess whether or not you are a high-risk patient, based on the results of your test. Here are a few things your doctor may recommend that will help to protect your baby as much as possible from contracting the group B strep infection at the time of birth:
- Your doctor will suggest you begin a course of antibiotics that will help to minimize the risk of your baby getting the infection at the time of birth.
- Your doctor will probably suggest that you be given the antibiotics through IV at the time of delivery, so that there are lesser chances that your baby will get affected or will fall sick. Taking an antibiotic treatment is one of the most effective ways to make sure that your baby is protected.
- If your doctor identifies you as a carrier of the group B strep bacteria, putting you on an antibiotic course before your labor begins may not be the most effective way of preventing the transmission to your baby at the time of birth. As the bacteria will naturally be present in your system, it will again come back after you have had the antibiotic, and can also affect your baby.
How Can Group B Streptococcus Affect The Newborn Baby?
Newborn babies who are affected with group B streptococcus will either have early-onset group B strep (that shows at the time of birth or within a few hours after birth) or late-onset group B strep (that shows within a week or even within a few weeks after birth). Here are a few signs and symptoms you can watch out for:
1. Early Onset Group B Strep Symptoms:
Early-onset group B strep is more common than late onset group B strep infection. Babies who develop the same, as well as their mothers, are given IV antibiotic treatment to help with the same. Here are a few symptoms:
- The baby will have difficulty in breathing.
- The baby’s heartbeat may be unstable.
- Blood pressure of the newborn will also be unstable.
- The newborn will be affected with meningitis, sepsis or even pneumonia at the time of or very soon after birth.
- The newborn will also have various kidney as well as gastrointestinal problems.
2. Late Onset Group B Strep Symptoms:
Late-onset group B strep is not as common as early-onset group B strep infection. Babies who develop the same will most likely get it at the time of delivery. Alternatively, the baby may also get the same after coming in contact with someone else who has the group B strep infection. Here are a few symptoms:
- The most common symptom of late onset group B strep is meningitis, which will show up within a few weeks or months after the baby is born.
- The other symptoms may remain the same as in the case of early onset group B strep.
Treating A Newborn Who Has A Risk Of Group B Streptococcus:
Here are some common procedures that are followed in most healthcare centers once a baby is born:
- At the time of birth, the doctors and the medical team will carefully examine the newborn to look for any signs and symptoms that could point to group B strep.
- If the mother had tested positive for group B strep while she was pregnant, the newborn would be placed under special observation to look for symptoms.
- In case the newborn does show signs of group B strep, the doctors will immediately start a course of antibiotics to treat the same.
- A pediatrician will also be present to help the baby with any symptoms.
While the group B strep bacteria are present naturally in your body, do speak to your doctor about the various tests you can carry out to make sure you and your unborn baby are safe.
What tests did your doctor refer you to get done while you were pregnant? Was gbs test during pregnancy one of the tests too? Tell us below.
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