Fours years and one week ago I gave birth to a great big baby boy. At 10lb 7oz, after a 3.5 hour labour, K looked incredibly healthy. But we ended up staying in hospital for almost another week. He had to have medication injected into his tiny blood vessels every few hours, day and night. Why? Because he’d been exposed to Group B Strep (GBS).
Group B Streptococcus is a bacterium that is carried by 1 in 4 pregnant women – it is usually harmless. It can be passed from the mother to her baby around birth. An estimated 1 out of every 300 babies born to women carrying GBS will become seriously ill if they don’t get treated with preventative medicine.
We were lucky: I had tested positive for GBS after DD’s birth seven years previously, and I checked my GBS status towards the last few weeks of each pregnancy. With J I’d had antibiotics during labour which meant he would be fine: unfortunately labour was so quick with K that he didn’t get this and I had to cope with seeing my newborn baby exposed to injections and antibiotics that could save his life if the infection developed.
National charity, Group B Strep Support estimates that approximately 700 babies may become sick due to GBS each year, of whom 75 babies would die and another 40 would suffer serious on-going health issues. Although many western countries offer pregnant women testing for this, we don’t in the UK. Other countries have seen their incidence of group B Strep infection in newborns fall dramatically – in the US1 by 80% – while the incidence in the UK has increased by 23% between 20032 and 20113.
National charity, Group B Strep Support is calling on the Government to ensure better awareness and better prevention of life-threatening group B Strep infections in newborn babies. At present, the recognised ‘gold standard’ for testing4 for group B Strep in pregnancy is rarely available on the NHS. I sent off for my test, my midwife carried it out, and I sent it back to a lab for analysis. The ‘gold standard’ test for group B Strep, which poses no risk to the mother or her baby, is available from a handful of NHS hospitals and privately at a cost of £35 per test (estimated NHS cost in 2009 of £10.63 per test7). NHS trusts and private laboratories which offer the ‘gold standard’ ECM test are listed at www.gbss.org.uk/test.
Group B Strep Support Chief Executive, Jane Plumb MBE, whose middle child died from GBS infection, says, “Every mother-to-be should be informed about group B Strep during her antenatal care and, if she or her health professionals want her to be tested for it in pregnancy, the ‘gold standard’ test should be available on the NHS. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ risk-based guideline introduced in 2003 have not resulted in the falls in incidence all had hoped for. Being able to test pregnant women for group B Strep within the NHS will I believe make a significant impact on the numbers of babies suffering preventable GBS infection, and a 2011 survey shows that women want this.”
Sign the GBSS petition at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43712