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More needs to be done to prevent Group B strep infection in the UK

02 June 2015
Volume 23 · Issue 6


Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common cause of sepsis and meningitis in infants under the age of 3 months with a 10% mortality and significant morbidity for many survivors. In the UK, over 40 babies die each year of GBS-related sepsis. Early-onset infection can be prevented in the majority of cases by giving women known to be colonised with GBS intravenous antibiotics during labour, but this requires a screening process which is not currently recommended in the UK. In many countries, including the USA, Canada and much of Europe, screening for GBS colonisation is part of routine antenatal care. This article aims to review the issues surrounding antenatal screening for GBS and argues that we could be doing much more in the UK to prevent this potentially devastating infection in newborn babies.

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common cause of sepsis and meningitis in infants less than 3 months of age (Heath and Schuchat, 2007; Stoll et al, 2011). Of those babies infected, about 10% die and half of those who suffer from GBS-meningitis have long-term neurodevelopmental problems (Bedford et al, 2001; Stoll et al, 2011; Edmond et al, 2012; Libster et al, 2012). In England and Wales the number of babies affected annually has risen significantly over the past 20 years (Lamagni et al, 2013). The current rates of infection are 62/100 000 live births, corresponding to 445 cases in 2013 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland alone (Public Health England, 2014), and around 40 neonatal deaths, excluding stillbirths, annually (Depani et al, 2011; Public Health England, 2012). Yet public awareness is low, with a recent survey showing that only one third of women of child-bearing age know about GBS (McQuaid et al, 2013). This article aims to discuss the prevention of GBS infection in infants, with a particular focus on the issues surrounding screening.

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