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Group B Strep: Protecting our Futures

22 July 2016

This July CoMO is supporting Group B Strep Awareness month. For us and many other charities, July is a time to give the spotlight to a health issue that is often overlooked.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria (Streptococcus agalactiae) can be found in the vagina or rectum of a pregnant woman and can be passed to her new-born baby. Not all babies exposed to GBS become infected, but for those who do, the results can be devastating. The bacteria can cause septicaemia, pneumonia or meningitis; GBS currently being the biggest cause of neonatal meningitis in the UK[1].

UK Charity and member of CoMO, Group B Strep Support (GBSS), is promoting GBS Awareness Month this July to raise awareness of GBS in order to prevent further cases and to support affected families. They have a huge range of information and resources available on their website that can be accessed here. Earlier this year, CoMO supported GBSS in a movement to improve preventative measures against GBS, following the release of the National Maternity Review. CoMO and 17 other charities co-signed a letter criticizing the exclusion of GBS as the most common cause of serious infection in new-born babies and meningitis in babies under three. Not only are educational materials for expectant mothers low, there is also a lack of tests and screening for GBS in many countries, which could prevent further infections.

CoMO advocates for improved access to vaccines and preventative methods through our Life Course Immunisation Initiative, where we are active in collaborating with key stakeholders in civil society and industry who are engaged with vaccine and age-related issues to promote immunisation at all stages of life. Through our initiative we advocate for increased awareness of vaccines and increased coordination of immunisation schedules across countries all over the world. We recognise the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases for people of all ages, and therefore promote the importance of measures to protect across the generations and reduce hospitalisation.

CoMO recognises GBS as a threat to populations from the earliest stages of life. It is widely believed that this threat could be reduced with increased screening for GBS infection and further developments in preventative measures[2]. Current methods for testing for GBS in pregnant mothers vary between countries, but most are diagnosed by a swab test taken at the late stages of pregnancy. Another common method is to give antibiotics during labour to women who test positive for GBS.

Whilst these methods can be effective, there are disparities between the kinds of tests offered to women in various countries; consequently widening inequalities in healthcare. CoMO believes that while there is a threat posed by GBS to babies and mothers there continues to be a requirement for further investment into potential methods for prevention. Recently there has been the development of a potential vaccine that could protect mothers and babies from the onset of GBS infection[3]. Although the vaccine is in early stages of testing, it could be an essential method of preventing GBS infections that can cause death or long-term disability in babies. The vaccine would also reduce the need for administering antibiotics in pregnant women during labour and also infants who contract GBS; simultaneously contributing to the fight against antibiotic resistance.

In alignment with CoMO’s Life Course Immunisation Initiative, we believe in vaccinations in order to protect individuals in every stage of life, from babyhood through to later life. Therefore this vaccine would be a progressive movement towards a reduction in cases of neonatal meningitis, saving the lives and wellbeing of babies all over the world, we wait in anticipation for further developments. We hope this month will promote increased education and awareness of GBS and the preventative measures that are currently available. Through education we can protect our futures and the futures of our children against life-threatening infections such as GBS.

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