Group B Strep (GBS)

Group B Strep (GBS) is a bacteria that is present in approximately 25 percent of all women, many of whom have no symptoms. Unfortunately, Group B Strep can be transmitted from mother to infant during vaginal deliver. When this happens the Group B Strep bacteria can cause an infection that can result in permanent severe injury to the the infant. And about 5 percent of all infants affected by Group B Strep do not survive.

How Does Group B Strep Harm Infants?

In some cases, the Group B Strep transmitted from the mother gets into the infant's bloodstream. When this happens, it can lead to sepsis (an infection that has spread throughout the body) and even meningitis. The result can be a permanent disability, or, in some cases, death. The majority of cases, approximately 75 percent, of Group B Strep infections occur within the first week of birth. Most of these occur within a few hours after birth. This is termed an "early onset" of the disease. Almost all other infants who develop a Group B Strep infection do so between one week three months after birth. This is termed a "late onset" of the disease. Approximately one-half of late onset cases are related to the transmition of the Group B Strep bacteria from the mother. The remaining one-half of late onset of Group B Strep cases are of unknown origin.

What are the long term effects of Group B Strep disease?

Infants infected with Group B Strep are at risk of such long term effects as blindness, hearing loss, motor deficits, learning disabilities, brain damage, and cerebral palsy.

How is GBS disease diagnosed and treated?

GBS disease should be considered in any newborn baby who demonstrates sign or symptoms of infection at birth or during the first week of life. The symptoms may include fever, breathing difficulties, grunting sounds, increased (stiff or decreased) limp, muscle tone, seizures, or markedly unusual behavior.

If any of the above symptoms are present, blood tests and cultures of bodily fluids such as urine, sputum, or cerebrospinal fluid are performed to check for the presence of GBS. It generally takes several days to obtain the final results of these tests. However, intravenous antibiotics would routinely be started immediately once GBS disease is suspected.

Can GBS in newborns be prevented?

70 to 80 percent of cases of GBS disease in newborns can be prevented by administration of intravenous antibiotics to the mother at the onset of labor in those cases in which one or more risk factors are present. These include the following:

  • Positive culture of the mother for GBS colonization at 35-37 weeks
  • Previous baby with GBS disease Urinary tract infection due to GBS
  • Fever (temperature higher than 100.4 degrees F) during labor
  • Rupture of membranes (breaking of the bag of waters) 18 hours or more before delivery
  • Labor or rupture of membranes before 37 weeks

If one or more of these risk factors are identified, intravenous antibiotics should be offered to the mother as early in labor as possible. It is medically appropriate to perform cultures of the mother's vagina and rectum between 35 and 37 weeks to check for GBS colonization. If a culture has not been done, or the results are not known, antibiotics should still be offered to the mother if her membranes rupture 18 hours or more before delivery, or if she has the onset of labor and/or rupture of membranes before 37 weeks. The antibiotics most commonly given are Penicillin or Ampicillin.

Seeking Legal Help

If your child has suffered from Group B Strep and you suspect that the injury resulted because a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider failed to provide adequate care during the pregnancy, during the labor and delivery of your baby, or after your baby demonstrated symptoms associated with GBS, you should immediately contact a competent attorney. The attorney will be able to help you understand whether your child's injury was the result of a health care provider's negligence, in which case the attorney will also be able to assist you in recovering compensation that can be used for your child's care and education.

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