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Group B Strep in Pregnancy

by Jane Wangersky | January 13th, 2014 | Pregnancy

petriDuring your pregnancy, you’ll likely be tested for Group B Strep (GBS). If it’s found, you and your doctor will need to take steps to prevent you from passing it on to your baby during delivery. Though GBS is both rare and treatable — only about 1,200 babies in the U.S. every year develop it in their first week, and only 4-6% of babies infected with it die — its effects are serious enough to put all pregnant women on guard against it. GBS in babies, both early-onset (in the first week of life) and late-onset (up to three months) can cause infections such as pneumonia and meningitis, as well as long-term disabilities such as deafness.

The Center for Disease Control recommends all pregnant women get tested for GBS in their 35th to 37th week. The test involves taking samples from the vagina and rectum (the CDC says this doesn’t hurt) with cotton swabs. In about 25% of pregnant women, GBS is found, but the woman usually doesn’t feel any symptoms.

If you are GBS positive, you should be given antibiotics during labor. This cuts your chance of delivering a baby with GBS to one in 4,000. (Without antibiotics, the chances are one in 200.) Unfortunately, this means you’ll need an IV during labor. Antibiotics taken by mouth, or taken before labor starts, aren’t effective. Penicillin is the most common antibiotic given in these cases, but if you’re allergic to it, there are alternatives.

Something else unfortunate — this strategy prevents only early-onset GBS, not late-onset. However, work is going forward on a vaccine for late-onset GBS.

A few more things to be aware of:

GBS occurs at a higher rate among African-Americans.

If you’ve already had a baby with GBS, or if it shows up in your urine during pregnancy, you can skip the swab test at 35-37 weeks — you’ll just be given the antibiotics in labor.

You should also get them if you’re running a fever during labor, if you don’t know whether you’re GBS positive,  if your labor is premature, or if your water broke more than 18 hours before delivery.

Though the risk is small, you’ll still want to do all you can to cut it even further.

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