Newborns are at a higher risk of developing complications from Group B strep (GBS) than previously thought, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge. The research found that one in 200 newborns are admitted to neonatal units with GBS-related sepsis, a bacterial infection that can be passed from pregnant women to their babies during birth.
Previously, NHS data suggested that only about one in 1,750 babies become seriously ill from GBS infection. However, this new study, which reanalyzed existing data, found that GBS was present in the placenta of about 5% of women before labor.
The researchers developed a test kit for GBS that can be used to screen expectant mothers for the bacteria. This breakthrough could potentially change the risk/benefit balance of universal screening for GBS, as pregnant women in the UK are currently not routinely screened unless they have complications or risk factors.
Group B Strep Support, a charity that raises awareness about GBS, has urged the government to make GBS a notifiable disease. This would ensure accurate reporting of cases and help in tracking the spread of the infection.
GBS infections in newborns typically occur within six days of birth, but symptoms can emerge up to three months later. It’s important to note that GBS can also cause infections in adults, affecting various parts of the body. In addition, GBS infections have been linked to stillbirths, premature deliveries, and maternal infections.
The treatment for GBS infections is intravenous antibiotics. Approximately 20% of women carry GBS in their genital tract, which can lead to neonatal sepsis in babies. The presence of GBS in the placenta was found to be associated with a two to three-fold increased risk of neonatal unit admission. The researchers also discovered increased levels of cytokines, which are proteins involved in inflammation, in the umbilical cord serum of babies with GBS, potentially explaining the increased risk of disease.
A randomized controlled trial of screening for GBS in the UK is currently underway, and the researchers hope that their ultrasensitive test could lead to point-of-care testing for immediate neonatal care. This could provide crucial information for healthcare providers to make timely decisions regarding the treatment of GBS in newborns.