What is Group B Streptococcus?

What is Group B Streptococcus?

Group B streptococcus, also known as vaginal strep, is a bacterial infection that can be found in a pregnant women’s vagina or rectum.  About twenty five percent of healthy women can carry this bacteria. It is a very common form of strep and is usually harmless in adults. Adults can carry the bacteria without showing any signs or symptoms.

There aren’t any exact causes to group b strep, you could carry the bacteria in your body always, it can come and go or you can develop it for just a short period of time. Women who have conditions that lower their immune systems are more at risk to group b strep. This is not a sexually transmitted disease and cannot be passed through food or water.  It can cause some problems to infants though of women who are pregnant and carry the group B streptococcus.

Newborns can have serious illness from catching this strep, but not all infants born to a woman who has the Group B strep become infected.  There are two types of Group B streptococcus in infants, early onset or late onset. Early onset occurs within a few days to a week of birth.  It will have symptoms of fever, difficulty feeding, and lethargy. Late onset is within the first month after birth. The symptoms with this are difficulty breathing, fever, difficulty feeding, lethargy and irritability.  

To be tested for this while you are pregnant your health care provider will request doing a vaginal swab of your vagina.  This will usually be done between 35-37 weeks pregnant. If you test positive for Group B streptococcus, that does not mean you are ill, just means you carry the bacteria and that the bacteria can be passed along to your infant.  If your doctor suspects your infant to have the bacteria they will take a blood sample to see if they test positive as well.

In both cases to treat Group B streptococcus, both adults and infants can be treated by antibiotics.  Women during labor will be given IV antibiotics if they tested positive. You would be given IV antibiotics during labor as opposed to taking oral antibiotics because the bacteria could come back before you deliver your baby.  Your doctor may also can precautions and give you IV antibiotics during labor if you haven’t gotten tested for the Group B bacteria and you show signs of a urinary tract infection, you have delivered a previous baby that has had Group B strep, you develop a fever during labor, or you are delivering your baby prematurely.

Infants who are found to have group B strep will be given IV antibiotics.  They may be given other treatments to help their other symptoms. Such as IV fluids if they aren’t eating well, or breathing treatments if they are having difficulty breathing.

Antibiotics will get rid of the infection that are caused by the group b strep. The bacteria can eventually go away but it can be something that you just always have and it not be life threatening or something that you show any signs or symptoms of.  About 4% of people who have an infection from vaginal strep can have a recurrence. Group B streptococcus is a very common form of strep and usually is harmless. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about this.