Why raising awareness of group B Strep matters

25th July 2022 Clinical Negligence

July is Group B Strep (GBS) Awareness Month and we at JMW have been supporting the charity Group B Strep Support (GBSS) with their campaign to raise awareness, #BumpItOn.

If there was any doubt that more awareness is needed the statistics from GBSS are stark. Whilst 99% of those surveyed think a pregnant women should be told about the risks of GBS by their doctor or midwife, 14% of women had never heard of GBS and 72% said they didn’t have what they felt was enough information about it.

Why does this matter?

GBS is a common but serious cause of infection in babies - it can cause death and life changing injuries. On average 66 babies a month are diagnosed with group B Strep infection in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Most recover but tragically of those 66, four die and six are left with long term physical or mental disabilities

The aim of raising awareness is not to scare would-be-parents but to arm them with information about group B Strep which will enable them to reduce the risk to their baby.

As a lawyer specialising in medical claims, I often find myself listening to devastated or grieving parents saying, ‘if only we’d known’. The tragedy that has occurred is not their fault but they are left wishing they had known more - about the risks, about the symptoms and treatment of a particular disease, about what to ask etc. I am a great believer that when it comes to medical care patients should be armed with as much information as possible so that they can make fully informed choices and can decide what steps they take to protect their families as far as possible. Forewarned is forearmed.

With that in mind for this year’s Group B Strep Awareness Month we are highlighting some basic information about GBS and what parents need to know to reduce the risk to them and their baby.

What should everyone know about GBS?

The charity Group B Strep Support has a lot of really useful information on their website - https://gbss.org.uk/info-support/about-group-b-strep/what-is-group-b-strep/ - but the headline points I want to emphasise here are: 

  • It can cause dangerous infections in babies.
  • You can carry it without knowing you do.
  • In the UK pregnant women are not routinely tested for GBS.
  • Antibiotics given in labour (or given very quickly after your baby is born) can reduce the risk of your baby becoming seriously unwell.

How can the risks parents face from GBS be reduced?

  • If you have previously had a baby who developed GBS infection, then you should be offered antibiotics during your labour in your subsequent pregnancies.
  • If you know you or your baby had an infection in a previous pregnancy ask what that infection was and whether it was GBS.
  • If GBS was found in a previous pregnancy and your baby was unaffected you can have a test to see if you are carrying GBS during your current pregnancy. If the test is positive you should be offered antibiotics, if negative your risk is low and you would not be offered antibiotics.
  • Even if you have not carried GBS before, during your pregnancy ask about a having a test to see if you are carrying group B Strep. As explained above, testing is not routinely offered in the UK but you can sometimes get a test. If you are not entitled on the NHS you can pay for a test if you can afford it. Read more about testing here: https://gbss.org.uk/info-support/group-b-strep-testing/should-i-get-a-group-b-strep-test/
  • If your test reveals you are carrying GBS you should be offered antibiotics in labour.
  • If your baby shows signs of GBS infection after birth they should be treated immediately with antibiotics.

Please don’t be afraid to ask about testing and antibiotic treatment and please do share this information with those you know so as many people as possible are forewarned and have a chance of changing the outcome for their family.

If you need any further information or support please contact GBSS.​​​​

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Nicola Wainwright is a Partner and Head of London Clinical Negligence located in Londonin our Clinical Negligence department

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