What is Group B Streptococcus (GBS)?
GBS is a common bacterium – it does not cause harm and does not require treatment. Approximately 25% of women of childbearing age carry GBS in the vaginal-rectal area at any one time. Newborn babies who develop GBS infection are usually exposed to GBS in the womb although this can happen during labour, birth, or after birth. Many thousands of babies are exposed to GBS with no ill effects – just why some babies are susceptible to the bacteria and consequently develop infection while others don’t is not clear. Group B Streptococcus is the commonest cause of bacterial infection in newborn babies in the UK.
Most GBS infections can be prevented by women carrying GBS being given intravenous antibiotics at the onset of labour, as well as to those delivering prematurely or with a history of GBS. This recommended use of intravenous antibiotics reduces the likelihood of early-onset GBS infection developing in a baby born to a woman carrying GBS at the time of delivery from around 1 in 300 to less than 1 in 6000.