By Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo
Associate Professor, School of Public Health, American Military University
Start an Emergency & Disaster Management degree at American Military University.
Strep throat is a common ailment that is easily treatable. You or someone you know has probably had it at one time. Often, when we go to our physician or clinic with symptoms such as fever, throat pain, and swollen tonsils, a strep test is then performed to rule out or confirm a strep infection.
However, you may have not heard of Group B Strep (GBS), which is caused by bacteria naturally found in the body. This disease can be fatal if not treated appropriately.
July is International GBS Awareness Month, so here are some quick facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about this important health issue.
While anyone can get GBS, rates of serious GBS infections are higher among newborns than the general population. Newborns are at an increased risk for GBS if their mothers test positive for the bacteria during pregnancy. For every 50 babies who develop GBS disease, about two to three (four to six percent) will die.
Group B Strep Is a Leading Contributor to Adverse Maternal and Newborn Outcomes
Globally, recent data published by PubMed suggests that Group B Strep is a leading contributor to adverse maternal and newborn outcomes, with at least 409,000 maternal/fetal/infant cases and 147,000 stillbirths and infant deaths every year. Worldwide, about one in five pregnant women carries Group B Strep bacteria. Although several vaccines to prevent GBS are in development, none is currently available.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that GBS is present among pregnant women in all regions of the world, with an average of 18% of pregnant women carrying the bacteria. The top five countries (ranked to the nearest 100) of pregnant women with GBS are:
- India (2,466,500)
- China (1,934,900)
- Nigeria (1,060,000)
- United States (942,800)
- Indonesia (799,100)
GBS Bacteria a Leading Cause of Meningitis and Bloodstream Infections in First Three Months of Life
According to the CDC, GBS bacteria are a leading cause of meningitis and bloodstream infections in a newborn’s first three months of life in the United States. About 900 babies contract early-onset GBS and about 1,200 babies contract late-onset GBS.
Since GBS bacteria is passed on from mother to infant, it is important to know the facts about GBS and pregnancy. Current CDC data shows that about one in four pregnant women carry GBS bacteria in their body. In order to detect whether a woman is GBS positive or negative, doctors should test for GBS bacteria when she is 36 to 37 weeks pregnant.
Giving GBS-positive pregnant women antibiotics intravenously during labor can prevent most early-onset GBS in newborns. With this intervention, there is only a one in 4,000 chance of delivering a baby who will develop GBS disease. If the mother does not receive antibiotics during labor, her chances of delivering a baby who will develop GBS are one in 200.
Because July is International GBS Awareness Month, it’s important to share this information with your loved ones and pass on the facts about this important health issue.
About the Author
Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo, MPH, MCHES, is a trained scholar in health promotion and health education, with over 10 years of experience developing, implementing and evaluating public health programs in clinical, community and work-site settings. She previously was an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She received her Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, with minors in Epidemiology and Leadership/Management from the University of Texas School of Public Health.