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Don’t Skip This Prenatal Screening: GBS is Dangerous for Baby

By Kathryn Klayum, DO August 24, 2021 Posted in: Maternity Care

A normal bacteria that’s harmless for pregnant women can cause severe disease in babies after delivery. That’s why physicians routinely screen for Group B Streptococcus, or GBS. 

GBS Doesn't Typically Cause Symptoms in Mom

As many as four in 10 pregnant women (15-40%) have this bacteria in their gastrointestinal or genital tract. You won’t know it’s there because GBS typically causes no symptoms. But it becomes a problem if it is transmitted to baby during delivery. 

While most babies survive GBS infection, there can be long-term effects. These can include permanent neurological effects such as seizures, hearing and vision loss, cerebral palsy and developmental delay. 

Prevent GBS Infection

That’s why it’s so important prevent GBS infection in baby by:

  • Routinely screening for GBS during pregnancy at 35-36 weeks by swabbing the vagina/rectum.
  • Treating pregnant women who are GBS positive with antibiotics (penicillin) while in labor. This is done for:  
    • Positive GBS swab of vagina/rectum
    • Positive GBS in urine
    • History of GBS sepsis in baby during prior pregnancy
    • Pre-term labor/rupture of membranes before GBS status is known

If baby does get a GBS infection, it can have early onset (birth to six days) or late onset (7 to 89 days), and is treated with antibiotics and supportive care. Screening and treatment during labor has significantly decreased the early GBS infection rates in neonates, by over 80%. Late onset GBS infection rates have remained the same.

Symptoms of GBS Sepsis in Baby

Early GBS sepsis is when baby shows signs of infection, usually within 24 hours of delivery. Typically this will be sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis. Signs of sepsis include:

  • Poor feeding
  • Lethargy/irritability
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Temperature instability
  • Pneumonia in 10% of infections
  • Meningitis in 7% of infections

Late GBS sepsis typically will manifest as bacteria in the blood or bacteremia. Typically, baby will have:

  • Fever
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding 
  • Lethargy 
  • Meningitis

The sad news is that, while rare, some babies do succumb to GBS. The mortality rate is 2-3% in early onset and 1-3% in late onset in a baby born after 37 weeks. In a preterm delivery, the mortality rate is higher at 20-30% for early onset and 5-8% for late onset.

The good news is routine prenatal care with GBS screening and treatment is quite effective in preventing GBS infections in babies. 

Learn more about CHI Health Maternity services.

Kathryn Klayum, DO
Kathryn Klayum, DO

Dr. Kathryn Klayum is a OB/GYN at CHI Health. To learn more about Dr. Klayum, please visit her provider profile.

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