Group B Strep in Pregnancy: Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Group B Strep (GBS)?
GBS is one of many common bacteria that live in the human body without
causing harm to healthy people. GBS develops in the intestine from time
to time, so sometimes it is present and sometimes it is not. GBS can be
found in the intestine, rectum, and vagina in about 2 of every 10 pregnant
women near the time of birth. GBS is NOT a sexually transmitted disease,
and it does not cause discharge, itching, or other symptoms.
2. How Does GBS Cause Infection?
At the time of birth, babies are exposed to the GBS bacteria if it is present
in the vagina, which can result in pneumonia or a blood infection. Full-term
babies who are· born to mothers who carry GBS in the vagina at
the time of birth have a 1 in 200 chance of getting sick from GBS during
the first few days after being born. Occasionally, moms can get a postpartum
infection in the uterus also.
3. How Do You Know if You Have GBS?
Five to three weeks before your due date, during a regular prenatal visit,
you or your clinician will collect a sample by touching the outer part
of your vagina and just inside the anus with a sterile Q-tip. If GBS grows
in the culture that is sent to the lab from that Q-tip sample, your clinician
will make a note in your chart and you should be notified so you can share
this information when you go into labor. Using the test results box printed
on the back of this page will help you keep this record.
4. How Can Infection from GBS Be Prevented?
If your GBS culture is positive within 5 weeks before you give birth, your
clinician will recommend that you receive antibiotics during labor. GBS
is very sensitive to antibiotics and is easily removed from the vagina.
A few intravenous doses are given up to 4 hours before birth almost always
prevents your baby from picking up the bacteria during birth. It is important
to remember that GBS is typically not harmful to you or your baby before
you are in labor.
5. Do You Have to Wait for Labor to Take Antibiotics?
Although GBS is easy to remove from the vagina, it is not easy to remove
from the intestine where it lives normally and without harm to you. Although
GBS is not dangerous to you or your baby before birth, if you take antibiotics
before you are in labor, GBS will return to the vagina from the intestine,
as soon as you stop taking the medication. Therefore, it is best to take
penicillin during labor when it can best help you and your baby. The one
exception is that, occasionally, GBS can cause a urinary tract infection
during pregnancy. If you get a urinary tract infection, it should be treated
at the time it is diagnosed, and then you should receive antibiotics again
when you are in labor.
6. How Will We Know if Your Baby Is Infected?
Babies who get sick from infection with GBS almost always do so in the
first 24 hours after birth. Symptoms include difficult breathing (including
grunting or having poor color), problems maintaining temperature (too
cold or too hot), or extreme sleepiness that interferes with nursing.
7. What Is the Treatment for a Baby with GBS Infection?
If the infection is caught early and your baby is full-term, most babies
will completely recover with intravenous antibiotic treatment. Of the
babies who get sick, about one in six can have serious complications.
Some very seriously ill babies will die. In the large majority of cases
if you carry GBS in the vagina at the time of birth and if you are given
intravenous antibiotics in labor, the risk of your baby getting sick is
1 in 4,000.
8. What If You Are Allergic to Penicillin?
Penicillin or a penicillin-type medication is the antibiotic recommended
for preventing GBS infection. Women who carry GBS at the time of birth
and who are allergic to penicillin can receive different antibiotics during
labor. Be sure to tell your clinician if you are allergic to penicillin
and what symptoms you had when you got that allergic reaction. If your
penicillin allergy is mild, you will be offered one type of antibiotic,
and if it is severe, you will be offered a different one.