Pregnancy and the arrival of a new member to the family is a special event and a beautiful process that usually occurs without major complications. However, there are always risks of contracting diseases that can affect the mother or the baby. One of them, not very well known, is infection with group B streptococcus, a bacterium carried by many perfectly healthy women, but which can pass to the baby at the time of delivery and can even put it at risk of death. Luckily, a simple test can catch it early.
Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful stages for the woman and the family. These are nine exciting months during which not only the baby develops day by day, but also all the members of the family prepare for its birth and take care of organizing everything necessary to receive it: the room in which it will sleep, the crib , his clothes, the stroller… don’t miss a detail!
For the mother in particular, everything feels more intense: many have anxiety about waiting and fear that everything will turn out well, especially during childbirth. Throughout this process, it is vital to receive good prenatal care, directed by the obstetrician. Already in the final stretch, during the third gestation period, controls and tests will be done more frequently, to avoid complications.
Among the many precautions that a pregnant woman should consider is talking to her obstetrician about group B streptococcus (GBS), also known as baby strep , a bacterium that is part of the vaginal or skin flora of many perfectly healthy women, but it can be dangerous if passed to the baby during childbirth. A detection test for this bacterium between weeks 35 and 37 of pregnancy allows the mother to be treated during delivery and eliminates the danger it represents for the baby.
If the woman is a carrier of the bacteria, does it mean that she is infected? No, human beings are carriers of various bacteria, both on the skin and inside the body, and some of these bacteria perform useful functions, such as those that live in the intestines and help digestion or those that control the pH (the degree of acidity) from the vagina. Group B strep is found in the bodies of many healthy women of all ethnic groups and does not cause them any harm. The problem begins when one of these women becomes pregnant, since the bacteria become a potential danger during the time of delivery or shortly after birth. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of being a carrier of group B strep since a group B strep infection is not a venereal disease, it is not contracted through sexual contact, nor does it mean that you do not have good personal hygiene. Nor should you confuse it with type A streptococcus, which is what causes throat infections (tonsils).
Other fears that must be banished is the possible transmission to other children or to people who live with the carrier woman: group B streptococcus is not transmitted through water or food. The pregnant woman cannot infect her other children either.
What you should do before delivery:
- If you’re pregnant, talk to your obstetrician about a GBS test that’s done between 35 and 37 weeks’ gestation to screen for group B strep. This is a vaginal culture and doesn’t cause discomfort or pain. If you have had other pregnancies and have not had complications, it does not matter. Remember that every pregnancy is different.
- If the test is positive, discuss treatment during delivery and continue with your regular checkups. The antibiotic that is usually used to fight strep B is penicillin. If you are allergic, there are other options.
- When you arrive at the hospital to give birth, let the staff know upon arrival that you are a carrier of the bacteria so they can give you intravenous antibiotics. These are most effective if you receive them at least 4 hours before delivery.
- You don’t need treatment if the test is negative between 35 and 37 weeks, or if it’s positive, but you’re going to deliver by C-section before labor begins.
Even when all precautions are taken, it is possible for the baby to be infected by passing through the vagina during delivery, or even up to 6 days after birth through contact with other people colonized by the bacteria. In the first case, the obstetrician or neonatologist must act immediately to prevent the baby from developing an infection in the lungs, in the blood, or even in the brain (meningitis).
The baby could also become infected later, during the first days after birth, (this is known as late-onset septicemia) and it occurs through other people colonized by the bacteria. You should be attentive to the following signs and go to the nearest doctor or hospital immediately, since it is almost always meningitis:
- If the baby feels lethargic and barely moves
- If he does not eat well or vomits
- If you have a high fever
- If you feel irritated
Because of the serious consequences it can have, it is important that all pregnant women get tested for group B strep during pregnancy, or recommend that a friend or family member get tested. Spread the word: prevention is always the best option and if the necessary measures are taken and it is detected in time, many risks are avoided for that baby they are waiting for with so much love.