What Is Group B Strep Infection?
Group B streptococcus (strep) is a bacteria that can come and go naturally in the body. The bacteria are usually not harmful — even to expectant mothers — but they are a common cause of severe neonatal infection and can be deadly to babies.
Group B strep infection occurs in 25% of all adult women in the United States. Pregnant women can pass these infections to their babies.
Because group B strep comes and goes, all pregnant women should be tested. If a woman with a group B strep infection gets antibiotics at the right time during labor, she most likely will not pass it to her baby.
Types of Group B Strep Infections
- Early-onset group B strep infection: Develops during the first week of life, with symptoms usually occurring within 24 hours of birth
- Late-onset group B strep infection: Develops weeks to months after birth
Group B Strep Infection Causes and Risk Factors
While anyone can get a group B strep infection, it is most common in newborns.
Some risk factors that increase the chance of passing a group B strep infection from mother to baby include:
- Testing positive for group B strep later in pregnancy
- Developing a fever during labor
- Having more than 18 hours pass after water breaks before having the baby
- Having a past pregnancy with a baby who had a group B strep infection
African-American and Hispanic women are at an increased risk of group B strep infection. Additionally, premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to get group B strep infections because their immune systems are less developed.
Group B Strep Infection Symptoms in Newborns
Symptoms of group B strep infections can mimic other health problems common in newborns.
These symptoms include:
- Being very sleepy
- Blueish color to the skin
- Breathing fast and making grunting noises
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty feeding
- Difficult to wake up
- Having a change in blood pressure
- Having convulsions (seizure)
- Irritability and fussiness
The symptoms for early-onset group B strep infection usually appear within the first 24 hours of birth or throughout the first week of life. Late-onset group B strep infection symptoms appear within the first few weeks or months.
Diagnosing Group B Strep Infection
Diagnosing group B strep infection is usually done by testing bodily fluids, such as blood or spinal fluid. The fluid is checked to see if group B strep bacteria grow from the samples. Since the bacteria need time to grow, the results of this testing can take a few days. Doctors may also perform a chest X-ray.
Additionally, a urine test may be performed if a urinary tract infection (UTI) is suspected. Pregnant women must be aware of the risks of group B strep infection and ensure their doctor has screened them prior to giving birth.
Complications from Group B Strep Infections
Since group B strep commonly lives in the human body and is not harmful most of the time, it tends to not cause any symptoms. In some cases, however, it can invade the body and cause disease.
Group B strep can cause the following types of infections:
- Bloodstream infection
- Bone and joint infections
- Skin and soft-tissue infections
In some cases, meningitis can cause brain damage in babies. It can also lead to vision or hearing loss, developmental disabilities, seizures, and even death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2 to 3 in every 50 babies who develop group B strep disease will die.
In some pregnant women, group B strep infection can cause UTIs that lead to preterm labor and birth. Group B strep bacteria may also cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Group B Strep Infection Treatment Options for Newborns
Testing for group B strep infection is routine for expectant mothers and usually happens between 36-37 weeks.
If a pregnant woman tests positive for group B strep bacteria and gets antibiotics during labor, there is only a 1 in 4,000 chance of passing it to her baby. However, if she does not receive antibiotics during labor, the chances jump to 1 in 200.
Pregnant women are usually given IV antibiotics called beta-lactams, which include penicillin and ampicillin. Antibiotics are started as soon as possible to help prevent problems. If testing and treatment procedures are not performed, medical negligence could be at play.
Newborns who develop group B strep infections may need to be treated in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Additionally, if the group B strep infection has caused meningitis or pneumonia, other treatments may be needed, such as IV fluids and breathing help.
Statistics About Group B Strep Infections in Babies
- About 1 in 4 pregnant women carry group B strep in their bodies.
- In the United States, group B strep infections are a leading cause of meningitis and bloodstream infections in a baby’s first three months of life.
- Each year in the United States, about 930 babies get early-onset group B strep infections. About 1,050 babies get late-onset group B strep infections.
- 2 to 3 in every 50 babies who develop group B strep disease die.
Compensation for Group B Strep Infection Related to Medical Negligence
Doctors in the United States should routinely test all expecting mothers for group B strep infections. Failure to do so can result in severe neonatal infection and even brain damage to the baby.
If your baby is hurt because you were not checked for group B strep infection, it could be considered medical negligence — and legal compensation may be available to you.
Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center to consult with our experienced team of Patient Advocates and get a free legal case review.