Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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Protect Your Baby From Getting Group B Strep

Written by  Christy Rippel

Expectant moms, take note. While you are tested for a number of things during your pregnancy, from iron deficiency to gestational diabetes, one of the most important tests comes towards the end of your 40 weeks.

Between 35 and 37 weeks, you will be tested for group B streptococcal—also called group B strep or GBS—and knowing the result is necessary for the health of your baby.

Group B strep is a bacterium that can live on the vaginal skin of a healthy woman for about 15 percent of the time. If you test positive for it near the end of pregnancy, you are considered either colonized with or a carrier of the bacteria. They don’t cause significant illness in adults, but they can cause an infection during birth, which can be serious for a newborn. Bacteria can be passed from the mother to the baby during delivery.

“It is extremely important to test for group B strep colonization in pregnant women, because the bacteria can cause invasive disease in newborn babies,” says Sarah Peterson, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Bon Secours Richmond OB-Gyn at the St. Francis Medical Center. “Group B strep disease in newborns can cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, or even death.”

There is no way to know whether you have the bacteria without a test, as the presence of group B strep often causes no symptoms in pregnant women. The test, which is quick and painless, involves a swab of the lower vagina and rectum, which is then sent to a lab for results. It is similar to the process of swabbing the tonsils and the back of the throat to check for strep. Ten to 30 percent of women test positive for group B strep.

If you do test positive, don’t panic. Antibiotics greatly reduce the risk of passing the bacteria to your baby. “Ideally, the antibiotics are administered intravenously (through an IV) at least four hours prior to delivery of the baby for optimal effectiveness,” says Dr. Peterson. Penicillin is the preferred drug to prevent group B strep transmission, and there are other options for patients who are allergic to penicillin.

If patients are cautious of the group B strep screening test, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all pregnant women, Dr. Peterson explains that it is essential. “Generally, when women understand why the test is recommended, they feel comfortable,” says Dr. Peterson. “I try to emphasize that the health of a woman and her baby guide our recommendations for prenatal care. After all, every mom wants a healthy baby.”

If a woman goes into labor before the Group B Strep test can be completed, IV antibiotics are usually given as a preventative measure.

Did You Know?

A pregnant woman who tests positive for group B strep bacteria and is administered antibiotics during labor has only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will develop group B strep disease, compared to a 1 in 200 chance if she does not. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)