Group B Strep, or GBS for short, is a type of Streptococcal bacteria commonly found in both men and women. It forms part of the normal bacterial flora of the gut and can also be found in the genital tract. In healthy adults, Group B Streptococcus is normally harmless.
However, some sections of the population are more susceptible to invasive infections caused by GBS. These include:
- The Elderly
- People with chronic illnesses that effect their immune system, such as diabetes
As highlighted by the charity, Group B Strep Support, GBS infections in newborns can be divided into two groups:
- Early Onset Disease, which usually occurs within the first seven days of life and results from the baby becoming infected with GBS whilst passing through the mother’s genital tract.
- Late Onset Disease, which occurs between eight and 90 days of life and results from the baby becoming infected with GBS from an external source after birth.
According to Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, approximately 1 in every 1,750 newborn babies in the UK and Ireland are diagnosed with early onset GBS infection. A baby is at an increased risk of developing early onset GBS infection where:
- The mother tests positive for Group B Strep in pregnancy
- The baby is premature
- There has been a delay between the mother’s waters breaking and the baby being born
- The mother has a fever or is showing signs of infection
Where a baby is at an increased risk of developing a GBS infection, appropriate IV antibiotics should be administered to the mother, in labour, as a precaution (prophylactic antibiotics).
If these prophylactic antibiotics are not administered or GBS infection develops in any event, then newborns are the most at-risk group of developing serious illnesses such as sepsis and meningitis, the injuries of which can be catastrophic and lifelong.
Some of the early signs and symptoms of GBS infection in newborns are:
- High or low body temperature
- Poor feeding
- Pale or bluish tint to the skin
- Abnormal heart rate
- Breathing difficulties such as breathing quickly, grunting and / or nose flaring
Helen Mackenzie, a senior medical negligence solicitor based in our Thames Valley, Reading office, specialising in serious neurological injury claims, advises that:
“Many of the symptoms of GBS infection are not specific to just this ailment. I therefore hope that, in due course, routine testing to see if a mother is GBS positive is provided by all Trust hospitals. The health of a newborn can be precarious and whatever steps can be taken to reduce the risk of serious illness should always be a priority.”
As we age our immune system is less effective at dealing with infectious disease and as with other types of bacteria, Group B Streptococcus can become invasive and cause illnesses such as:
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Cellulitis (infection of the skin)
- Osteomyelitis (infection of the bone)
As with newborns, it is important that where an elderly patient develops a Group B streptococcal infection that their treating clinicians ensure they are given appropriate antibiotics in a timely fashion to prevent the infection becoming more serious.
People with Chronic Illnesses
A Group B streptococcal infection has always posed an increased risk to adults with chronic illnesses that effect their immune system. Diabetes is one such illness and unfortunately is on the increase in the general UK population. Since 1996 the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has increased from 1.4 million to 2.6 million in 2009. Alarmingly, this number is expected to reach four million by 2025 according to Diabetes UK.
Those with diabetes are unfortunately more prone to infections because they have higher blood sugar levels which weakens the immune system and allows bacteria, such as Streptococcus, to grow more readily. Furthermore, those who have had diabetes for a long time are more likely to already have peripheral nerve damage and reduced blood flow to their limbs, particularly the feet.
Therefore, when they come into contact with Streptococcus and this becomes invasive e.g. it infects a small cut on the foot, the body is unable to manage the infection. It quickly spreads and can result in amputation, sepsis and even death.
Helen Mackenzie further comments:
“Over the years I have dealt with a number of cases involving invasive infections caused by Group B Streptococcus. The serious and lifelong injuries this common bacterium can cause, if left untreated, are significant, not only for my clients, but also for their loved ones who will often have to provide care and assistance for years to come.”
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023