July is GBS prevention month, and it’s a big deal

Provided by Maj. Scott A. Maddox 
U.S.Army Medical Command
Bavaria Health Command

An estimated 25% of pregnant women carry the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria. GBS is the leading cause of early onset-sepsis, which occurs in the first week of life and carries a high risk for infant mortality.

Later-onset sepsis is also a significant risk in infants up to age 3 months, who present with fever, feeding difficulties, limpness, irritability or lethargy, breathing difficulties or a blue color to the skin. Long-term complications of GBS in infants include the potential for deafness and developmental disabilities, and an estimated 4–6 percent of babies who contract GBS will die from the disease.

Fortunately there are ways to help protect babies from GBS. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended prenatal screening for all women at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, followed by intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis (IAP) for those who are colonized with the bacteria, the combination of which was very successful in reducing the incidence of sepsis in infants in the United States. Penicillin remains the first-line agent for treatment, with ampicillin an acceptable alternative. Despite this, GBS still causes more than one-third of cases of invasive early onset-sepsis, leading to a continued search for better solutions.

In current practice in the U.S., IAP is offered to pregnant women who are identified as “colonized” with GBS bacteria after the 35th week of pregnancy, pregnant women who previously delivered an infant with invasive GBS disease, or pregnant women who have been diagnosed with GBS themselves during pregnancy.

Speak to your OB doctor for more information.