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Group B streptococcus

Group B streptococcus (also called Group B strep or GBS) is a common type of bacteria that can cause infection. Most people do not know they even have it—GBS may be carried in your body for just a short period of time, it may come and go, or you may always have it. About 25% of pregnant women carry GBS bacteria, which live naturally in the intestines and the urinary and genital tracts.

While typically not the cause of serious illness in adults, GBS can cause severe injuries to newborns if exposed during labor and delivery, and therefore must be diagnosed and treated by an obstetrician. Pregnant moms who have GBS can pass those bacteria to their babies during labor and childbirth. GBS can also spread if the baby swallows fluids containing GBS.

Between 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, an obstetrician, certified nurse midwife or other healthcare provider will test for GBS by taking a swab of the mother’s vagina and rectum. If the GBS test is positive for infection, IV antibiotics (usually penicillin) are administered during labor. Treatment works best when it begins at least 4 hours before childbirth. You will be notified of your GBS test results, which will also be recorded on your prenatal record. If your provider does not give you the test results, ask him/her for them. For moms who were not tested for GBS during pregnancy, medical providers can perform quick screening tests during labor.

If GBS is present during childbirth and it is not treated, there is a 2% chance that the infection will be passed to the baby. Risk of passing GBS is higher if:

Signs and symptoms of a GBS infection in a newborn may not be immediately visible. Early-onset GBS may present fever, difficulty feeding, trouble breathing and drowsiness during the first 7 days of life. Early-onset GBS can also lead to life threatening conditions, such as pneumonia, sepsis (infection of the blood) or meningitis (an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain). According to the March of Dimes, about half of all GBS infections in newborns are early-onset.

Signs of late-onset GBS may be apparent between 7 days and 3 months of age. Symptoms include drowsiness, coughing, congestion, difficulty feeding, fever, irritability, staring off into space, or seizures. As with early-onset GBS, late-onset GBS can also lead to sepsis or meningitis. Meningitis caused by GBS infection may result in cerebral palsy, hearing problems, and learning problems.

Babies born with a GBS infection will receive antibiotics through an IV. Depending on the baby’s condition, IV fluids, oxygen or other medications may also be administered. Even with treatment, GBS can be life-threatening. About 4-6% of babies who have GBS die, and premature babies (born before 37 weeks) are at even higher risk of getting GBS, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you believe your baby suffered a GBS infection during labor or delivery, please contact our expert birth injury lawyers for help. Call us at 877-262-9767 to discuss your situation.

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