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Group B Streptococcus

Group B Streptococcus is bacteria that live harmlessly in the intestinal tract or the vagina.

It is believed around 10%-30% of pregnant women carry the GBS bacteria; however the majority of the babies will not become ill with the disease.

Newborn babies who contract GBS become infected because their immune system is underdeveloped. The bacteria can spread through the blood and cause serious illness like meningitis, septicaemia or pneumonia.

Risk of GBS in babies

  • The mother had a previous baby with GBS
  • Urine and swab tests positive for GBS in the mother
  • Mother has a high temperature during labour
  • Baby is part of a multiple birth
  • Premature baby
  • Labour is longer than 18 hours after waters have broken.

Late onset of the disease

Late-onset GBS infection is associated with the mother carrying GBS or being very young (under 20 years) and the baby being born preterm (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

Some babies may contract GBS between 7 and 28 days after birth and is usually contracted when babies come in contact with someone whose hands may contain the GBS bacteria.

Symptoms of GBS in babies

  • Fever (could have cold hands and feet)
  • Not being able to feed
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Dislikes being handled
  • Difficulty breathing/grunting
  • Pale/blotchy skin
  • High pitched cry or moaning
  • Bulging soft spot on head (fontanelle)
  • Arched back
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Dry nappy/diaper
  • Blotchy pale skin
  • Red or purple spots – DO NOT WAIT FOR THE RASH TO OCCUR

Treatment for GBS

Babies with suspected GBS disease need to seek urgent medical attention. Ask the nurse or the doctor could it be meningitis or GBS?

Prevention of GBS

  • There is no vaccine to protect against GBS.
  • Those women who are at a higher risk of GBS can be given antibiotics to reduce the risk during labour and can also be given to babies immediately after birth.
  • You can be tested for GBS in late pregnancy. Speak to your GP about the ECM (Enriched Culture Medium) test.

More information

If you would like more information on this you can download our brochures and pamphlets, call us Monday-Friday on 1800 250 223 or email us at info@meningitis.org.au.