12 July 2018
Written by Jane Plumb MBE, Intro by Becky Parry
This month is International Group B Strep Awareness Month #GBSAM18, a global campaign that raises awareness of Group B Streptococcus (also referred to as GBS, group B Strep and Strep B). Globally, an estimated one in five pregnant women carry GBS, and while the bacteria are normally harmless, GBS can cause stillbirths, infant deaths and disability .
Global research carried out in 2015 and published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that of the 409,000 estimated cases of GBS infection in mothers and babies in 2015, there were 147,000 fetal infections, stillbirths and infant deaths. Although Africa is only 13% of the world's population, an estimated 54% of cases occur there .
Usually GBS causes no harm, but in a relatively small number of cases it causes severe infection, most often in babies in their first 3 months of life. Worldwide, an estimated 319,000 babies developed GBS infection aged 0-90 days in 2015, with approximately 41 per 10,000 liveborn babies developing GBS infection in their first 6 days of life .
In the UK, GBS is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies , and the most common cause of meningitis in babies under age 3 months . Despite using a risk-based prevention strategy since 2003, the rate and number of these infections are rising. Currently in the UK, on average:
2 babies a day develop group B Strep infection
1 baby a week dies from group B Strep infection
1 baby a week recovers from group B Strep infection with long-term disability
Shockingly, in the UK and Republic of Ireland, 57 in every 10,000 liveborn babies develop GBS infection in their first 6 days of life (Heath, 2016)  – which is 40% higher than the worldwide rate, and 2.5 times higher than the US rate (22 cases in every 10,000 liveborn babies) . Between 2000 and 2014, there was an increase of more than 50% in the number of babies developing group B Strep infection in the UK and Republic of Ireland. And, while fewer babies thankfully died from their group B Strep infection, more survivors had long-term disability.
For Group B Strep Awareness Month 2018, GBSS is raising awareness of the new information leaflet on group B Strep, jointly written by GBSS and the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists , to ensure every pregnant woman in the UK receives a copy.
The new information leaflet is free to download to anyone in the world and GBSS is providing hard copies to families and maternity units throughout the UK. The leaflet is based on the updated guidance from the RCOG, published in 2017  and GBSS has produced a summary of those guidelines that are also free to download.
Jane Plumb MBE, GBSS Chief Executive, says:
“Knowing about group B Strep when you’re pregnant and in the early weeks after birth can make a massive difference – most group B Strep infections in newborn babies can be prevented, and early treatment can and does save lives.
"Identifying which babies are at raised risk of developing group B Strep infection and giving their Mums targeted intravenous antibiotics in labour, means tiny lives will be saved. There is also no doubt that early treatment of babies who develop group B Strep infection results in better outcomes for those babies, so knowing the signs to watch for – and act upon – is vital.
 World Health Organization. (2018) 'Group B Streptococcus infection causes an estimated 150,000 preventable stillbirths and infant deaths every year'.
 Seale, A.C. et al. (2017) 'Estimates of the Burden of Group B Streptococcal Disease Worldwide for Pregnant Women, Stillbirths, and Children', Clinical Infectious Diseases, 65(2, 6), pp. S200–S219.
 Madrid, L. et al. (2017) ‘Infant Group B Streptococcal Disease Incidence and Serotypes Worldwide: Systematic Review and Meta-analyses’, Clinical Infectious Diseases, 65(February), pp. S160–S172. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix656.
 Muller-Pebody, B. et al. (2011) ‘Empirical treatment of neonatal sepsis: Are the current guidelines adequate?’, Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition. doi: 10.1136/adc.2009.178483.
Okike, I. O. et al. (2014) ‘Trends in bacterial, mycobacterial, and fungal meningitis in England and Wales 2004-11: An observational study’, The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Elsevier Ltd, 14(4), pp. 301–307. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70332-3.
Heath, P. T. (2016) ‘Group B streptococcal disease in infants , 1(1057744), pp. 10–12.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists & Group B Strep Support (2017) ‘Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in pregnancy and newborn babies’, GBSS, (December), pp. 1–8 Hughes RG, Brocklehurst P, Steer PJ, Heath P, S. B. on behalf of the R. C. of Obstetricians and G. (2017) ‘Prevention of Early-onset Neonatal Group B Streptococcal Disease: Green-top Guideline No. 36’, BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 124(12), pp. e280–e305. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.14821.
Written by Jane Plumb
Jane Plumb MBE is the Chief Executive of GBSS, which she founded in 1996. GBSS supports UK families affected by group B Strep and health professionals by providing relevant, evidence-based information and education about Strep B.