Group B Strep Awareness Month

2 Jul, 2018

July is Group B Strep Awareness Month, an initiative organised by Group B Strep Support (GBSS) to raise awareness of this life-threatening infection among pregnant women and their families.

Jane Plumb is founder and chief executive of GBSS. Set up in 1996 after the loss of her newborn son, Theo, GBSS provides information and support to families affected by group B Strep (GBS). The charity also educates new and expectant parents, doctors and midwives about GBS testing and treatment, and campaigns for the introduction of improved testing strategies in the UK.

Here, Jane discusses the importance of GBSS’s work and her vision for the future.

 What is group B Strep?

Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies. On average, two babies each day in the UK will develop a GBS infection. Tragically, each week, one baby will die from a GBS infection and one other will be left with a life changing disability.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way: most GBS infections in newborns can be prevented by testing women during pregnancy and, if positive, providing antibiotics during labour. Targeted antibiotic use in labour is safe and effective and dramatically reduces the risk of a baby developing a serious infection.

What does group B Strep testing involve?

The international gold standard for detecting GBS carriage in women is the ECM (Enriched Culture Medium) test. Pregnant women can take this test between 35 and 37 weeks. If positive, they will be offered intravenous antibiotics during labour to reduce the chance of the newborn baby developing GBS infection.

The ECM test involves swabs taken from the low vagina and rectum. These are then cultured using enriched culture media to facilitate the growth of any GBS present in the sample. The test is simple, highly sensitive, and can even be done from home.

Screening all pregnant women for GBS is not routinely offered in the NHS. Testing, however, is key to prevention, which is why GBSS has enjoyed a close relationship with TDL for a number of years. TDL was the first laboratory in the UK to make GBS testing available to all pregnant women at a reasonable cost. We signpost towards their fully accredited GBS testing service through our website and information leaflets.

What is the UK’s current strategy?

Unlike most other developed countries, the UK does not offer routine antenatal testing for GBS. Instead, it takes a risk-based approach: health professionals consider a range of risk factors to determine whether a woman should be offered antibiotics in labour.

However, in late 2017 the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology updated their guidance and recommended that certain women should be tested specifically for GBS. As a result, ECM testing is becoming increasingly available in NHS hospitals – although this still very much depends on location.

What is your vision for the future?

Our mission at GBSS is to stop GBS infection in babies. Introducing routine screening could potentially prevent GBS infection in around 350 babies every year, saving 15 babies’ lives and protecting another 15 from life-changing disability. This is why we campaign for improvements to public health strategies and support the introduction of effective and accurate testing for all women in the UK.

The holy grail for us would be the development of a GBS vaccine, but this is still in its very earliest phases. For now, we want every pregnant woman to be fully informed about GBS – what it is, its risks and important preventative measures.

This July, we particularly want to raise awareness of the new group B Strep information leaflet and make sure one gets to every single pregnant woman in the UK. That way, we can help all women make a fully informed decision about whether or not to get tested.

To find out more about how you can get involved with Group B Strep Awareness Month, please click here

Follow GBSS on Twitter @GBSSupport #GBSAM18

HSL is a partnership between The Doctors Laboratory, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (the Royal Free London) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH)

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Health Services Laboratories