Group B strep: What you must know

What does it mean if you test positive for Group B streptococcus when you’re pregnant? We fill you in.

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Lim Ting, 33, found out that she had tested positive for GBS (Group B streptococcus bacteria) when she was 35 weeks into her second pregnancy with her now 3-year-old son Kyne. Although it was her second child, she knew nothing about GBS. “In fact, I didn’t even know that I was screened for GBS in my first pregnancy,” she says.

Ting was put on a course of antibiotics to treat the condition. However, she realised that this wasn’t going to work. She says, “I’d been given the same antibiotics a few months before for a sore throat, and I was allergic to it. After checking with the gynae, I found that I could not take anything, as I’m allergic to Penicillin, Amoxicillin and Erythromycin.” The only thing the doctor said he could do was to treat the baby if he had GBS when he was born.

Ting recalls, “I left the clinic feeling lost and puzzled. When I went home and started searching for answers on the Internet, I froze when I read the possible risks to the newborn: Stillbirth, pneumonia, meningitis, deafness and blindness.”

I froze when I read the possible risks to the newborn.

Having also read that the longer the baby stays in the birth canal, the higher the chances he will be infected with the bacteria, Ting says that she sank into a “panic, depressive, worried-sick mode”. The anxiety and worry affected even her sleep.

She then decided to look into natural remedies, and bought supplements and probiotics to build up her immunity and rid her body of the “bad” bacteria (though these ways have not been medically proven to prevent your baby from getting Group B strep).

Thankfully, when Kyne was born, he was infection free. Although the paediatrician told Ting to monitor her baby in the first month, and to bring him to the hospital immediately if he had any fever or abnormalities like eye discharge, Kyne was fine.

To find out more about GBS and how it can affect you if you are pregnant, read on...

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What exactly is GBS?
Group B streptococcus, or GBS, is a bacteria that can be found in the rectum, as well as in about 25 per cent of women’s vaginas. “Most people who harbour the bacteria are well and do not have symptoms,” notes SmartParents expert and gynaecologist Dr Christopher Chong from Gleneagles Hospital.

But if you are pregnant, GBS can harm your baby. “GBS can be passed on to the newborn as it moves out through the birth canal. It can cause serious infections such as meningitis, eye infections leading to blindness, developmental problems and pneumonia, as the newborn is very vulnerable,” he adds.

Expectant mums with low immunity and those with autoimmune diseases are at a higher risk of getting this condition. Pregnant women who produce an unusual vaginal discharge, those having intercourse and chronic smokers are also more vulnerable.

Expectant mums with low immunity and those with autoimmune diseases are at a higher risk of getting this condition.

Signs and symptoms
“Unusual vaginal discharge is the most common sign of GBS,” Dr Chong says. “Many may also have lower abdominal pain or discomfort, and even some bleeding.”

In the newborn, signs of a GBS infection can include fever, breathing problems, lethargy and not being able to feed well.

Diagnosis and treatment
The condition is diagnosed after a swab sample is taken from the expectant mum and sent to the laboratory to grow the bacteria. A series of tests for sensitivity to antibiotics will usually be conducted concurrently to determine the correct antibiotics to be used, says Dr Chong. This is especially so for mums who are allergic to penicillin.

“When the GBS-positive mum is in labour or when the water bag bursts, she is usually started on a high dose of penicillin intravenously, to prevent the baby from contracting GBS,” Dr Chong explains.

While GBS is not on the accepted and recommended list for a C-section, some GBS-positive mums may request this procedure.

Pointing out that GBS bacteria comes in many strains, he notes that the sub-type III GBS ST283 strain found in raw fish dishes last year is a different strain from the ones found in pregnant women.

Photos: iStock

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