Group B Streptococcus Infection (GBS) can have devastating consequences for newborn babies if the infection causes symptoms in the first few weeks of life. Medical knowledge can prevent many cases of the infection being acquired but the UK lags behind other countries in it approach to prevention. The devastating consequences include miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, Neurological Injury, including Cerebral Palsy and early infant death.
What is known about the infection?
The infection is carried by many women and often presents no risk but it is present in as many as 1 in 4 pregnant women. Being colonised with GBS, which is present in the gastrointestinal and genitourinary human tracts, is asymptomatic and generally the bacteria does not cause problems.
Sadly in the UK, awareness of the infection is low and often it is not until infection has arisen in mother or newborn that the risk of harm and the infection itself is appreciated.
How can serious harm be prevented?
Approaches vary from country to country. In the US, France, Spain, Belgium, Canada and Australia routine screening of pregnant women is carried out and consequently data shows falling incidences of newborn infection.
However, in the UK a risk-based strategy is used to assess the risk of infection and there is no current screening programme. Being a GBS carrier can be an incidental finding if there is maternal infection eg urinary tract or other infection during pregnancy and this may provoke testing for the GBS infection but otherwise the risk factors are the only way of assessment currently. These include:
- Onset of labour before 37 weeks
- Prolonged rupture of membranes
- Intrapartum fever
- Amniotic infection eg chorioamnionitis
- Young maternal age
Currently in the UK if the infection is known or suspected, intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis (IAP) is recommended during delivery.
Many people think this is unsatisfactory and Group B Strep Support campaigns for screening during pregnancy, particularly given that many developed countries have a screening based approach to this and this is proven to reduce harm.
Research suggests that there are quantifiable financial benefits to screening and that potentially up to 90% of all cases of GBS acquired infection could be prevented with screening followed by IAP during labour.
Can the infection be prevented by vaccination?
Another proposal for the future is a vaccine antenatally but one of the issues with this is whether this would be acceptable to women and whether the cost of introducing such a vaccine would be outweighed by the benefits gained.
During this Group Strep B Awareness Month we support the campaign to ensure that knowledge of this potentially deadly infection is increased.
Sadly if infection arises as a result of potentially preventable harm, resulting in death or permanent Neurological injury then it may be necessary to consider whether transmission of the infection could have been prevented. If no testing was undertaken during pregnancy for a mother at risk or there was no recommendation for IAP during delivery this might give rise to a claim.
Our specialist Birth Injury solicitors have experience of dealing with these types of claims and if you or your family have been affected by the issues above, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 316 8892.