What is Group B Streptococcus?

What is Group B Streptococcus?

Mar 4, 2018

Screening for Group B streptococcus and having treatment, if needed, is common and part of perinatal care in pregnancy. GBS is bacteria that can be found in the digestive tract, urinary tract, and genital area of about 25% to 30% of healthy people, at any given time. Being colonized with Group B strep is fairly common, and it is not a sexually transmitted disease, nor is the bacterium spread through our food or water supply. You can carry GBS in your body for just a short period of time, it may come and go periodically, or you may always have it.

The issue is that Group B strep can cause some serious complications for you and your baby in pregnancy and especially after delivery. An active GBS infection may cause chorioamnionitis, a severe infection of the placental tissues, or an infection in your infant after birth. Group B Strep can also lead to urinary tract infections which could lead to preterm birth. Newborn babies can contract GBS during pregnancy, or from the birth canal during labour and delivery, especially if your amniotic sac has been ruptured for a long period of time. Group B streptococcus disease is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborns, affecting 1 in 100 to 200 babies whose mothers are colonized. Premature babies are more susceptible to Group B infection than full-term babies.

All women in Canada are screened for Group B streptococcus, which is cultured from a swab from your vagina and/or rectum. This self-administered test is done between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy and results are usually available within 72 hours. It is imperative that you know your status as either positive or negative before labour begins. A positive GBS result does not mean that you or your baby will become ill; however, most health care providers will recommend treating you with IV antibiotics (usually penicillin) during labour to reduce the risk of transmission of the infection to your baby. If you don't know your status, or you've gone into labour prior to your screening, you automatically are treated with precautionary IV antibiotics.

Although it's not available yet, researchers are currently working on a Group B strep vaccine that could, eventually, help prevent GBS infections amongst adults.

We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.

Loree Siermachesky works as a multi-certified labour and postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years. She is well-known and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. She cares deeply for this profession and even more for her clientele, honoring them in whatever method of birth they choose, or helping them transition to new parenthood as they wish.