July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month. Group B Streptococcus (group B strep, GBS) are bacteria that come and go naturally in the body. Most of the time the bacteria are not harmful, but they can cause serious illness in people of all ages. In fact, group B strep disease is a common cause of severe infection in newborns. While GBS disease can be deadly, there steps pregnant women can take to help protect babies. Rates of serious group B strep (GBS) infections are higher among newborns, but anyone can get GBS disease. Below are some important facts about GBS disease in babies, pregnant women, and others.
- Among babies, there are 2 main types of GBS disease:
- Early-onset — occurs during the 1st week of life. Late-onset — occurs from the 1st week through three months of life.
- In the United States, GBS bacteria are a leading cause of meningitis and bloodstream infections in a newborn’s 1st three months of life.
- Early-onset disease used to be the most common type of GBS disease in babies. Today, because of e”ective early- onset disease prevention, early- and late-onset disease occur at similarly low rates.
- In the United States on average each year:
- About 900 babies get early-onset GBS disease.
- About 1,200 babies get late-onset GBS disease.
- Newborns are at increased risk for GBS disease if their mother tests positive for the bacteria during pregnancy. 2 to 3 in every 50 babies (4 to 6%) who develop GBS disease will die.
- About 1 in 4 pregnant women carry GBS bacteria in their body. Doctors should test pregnant woman for GBS bacteria when they are 36 through 37 weeks pregnant.
- Giving pregnant women antibiotics through the vein (IV) during labor can prevent most early-onset GBS disease in newborns.
- A pregnant woman who tests positive for GBS bacteria and gets antibiotics during labor has only a 1 in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will develop GBS disease. If she does not receive antibiotics during labor, her chance of delivering a baby who will develop GBS disease is 1 in 200.
- Pregnant women cannot take antibiotics to prevent early-onset GBS disease in newborns before labor. The bacteria can grow back quickly. The antibiotics only help during labor.
Other Ages and Groups
- GBS bacteria may come and go in people’s bodies without symptoms.
- On average, about 1 in 20 non-pregnant adults with serious GBS infections die.
- The rate of serious group B strep disease increases with age:
- There are 10 cases in every 100,000 non-pregnant adults each year.
- There are 25 cases in every 100,000 adults 65 years or older each year.
- The average age of cases in non-pregnant adults is about 60 years old.
The two best ways to prevent group B strep (GBS) disease during the first week of a newborn’s life are:
- Testing pregnant women for GBS bacteria
- Giving antibiotics, during labor, to women at increased risk
Unfortunately, experts have not identified effective ways to prevent GBS disease in people older than one week old.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active Bacterial Core Surveillance Report, Emerging Infections Program Network, Group B Streptococcus, 2016 pdf icon[1 page].
- Francois Watkins LK, McGee L, Schrag SJ, Beall B, Jain JH, Pondo T, et al. Epidemiology of invasive group B streptococcal infections among nonpregnant adults in the United States, 2008–2016external icon. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Feb 18. [Epub ahead of print]
- Nanduri SA, Petit S, Smelser C, Apostol M, Alden NB, Harrison LH, et al. Epidemiology of invasive early-onset and late-onset group B streptococcal disease in the United States, 2006 to 2015: Multistate laboratory and population-based surveillanceexternal icon. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019 Jan 14. [Epub ahead of print]
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