July 2021 is Group B Strep Awareness month in the UK. This campaign, organised by charity Group B Strep Support (GBSS), seeks to highlight just how essential the promotion of education, progressive research and awareness is in relation to Group B Strep.
What is Group B Strep?
But what is Group B Strep? According to the NHS website, Group B Strep is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria which is common in both men and women. It usually lives in the rectum or vagina and affects 2 to 4 women out of every 10. GBSS are keen to highlight that most individuals carrying Group B Strep will exhibit no symptoms, but that whereas the bacteria are not harmful to an adult, they can occasionally cause serious infection in young babies and, more rarely, during pregnancy.
Why is awareness of Group B Strep important?
It is a sad reality that Group B Strep is the most common cause of infection in newborn babies, causing infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. Current statistics exhibited by GBSS highlight that in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 66 babies are currently diagnosed with Group B Strep infection every month, 6 of whom will unfortunately go on to suffer from long-term physical or mental disabilities, and 4 of whom will sadly pass away from the infection. Should I get a Strep B test?
Despite these statistics and the continued efforts of campaigners, it is still not common practice within the UK to offer every pregnant woman in the UK a test for Group B Strep on the NHS. Elizabeth Smith, Head of our Medical Negligence Team has previously discussed her own experience of seeking a test and the difficulties in doing so, and you can read about her experience here.
If a test is conducted and Group B Strep discovered during a pregnancy, antibiotics can then be offered during labour in order to reduce the chance of infection to the baby. There is currently no evidence that taking antibiotics before labour reduces the incidence of Group B Strep in newborns.
Why is routine testing not offered?
The UK National Screening Committee does not currently recommend testing of all pregnant women for Group B Strep, citing that many women who carry Group B Strep give birth safely and without complications to the baby and that giving antibiotics to all women who carry Group B Strep would result in a very large number of women receiving these drugs.
At Wolferstans however, we have extensive experience of acting for individuals who have come to us after their child has suffered devastating injuries after a Group B Strep infection. A test for Group B Strep is safe, effective and easy to conduct. Such testing is standard practice in many other European countries including Germany, France and Spain, as well as also being present in the US and Canada.
A Parliamentary motion was tabled in 2019 seeking the introduction of standard testing between 35- and 37-weeks’ gestation for all pregnant women, however, such a test has still not yet been implemented and the position remains the same.
What can we do to help?
In the absence of changes in the law, taking part in Group B Strep Awareness month is essential in order to raise the profile of Group B Strep and ensure that all parents to be are aware of the potential danger to their child. By raising the possibility of a test with their healthcare professional, pregnant mothers can ensure that they are at the very least directed to appropriate private testing, and that their healthcare team are aware and on the lookout for the signs of Group B Step infections in the newborn.
GBSS want to reach as many expectant parents as possible and ensure that they are talking to their healthcare professionals about Group B Strep.
The hashtag #GBSAM2021 can be used on social media to promote awareness and detailed information about fundraising for the event can be located here.