Group B streptococcus

What is Group B streptococcus (GBS)?

GBS is a type of bacteria that is normally found in our gut and vagina. It usually does not cause any harm. Approximately 1 in 5 of healthy women are GBS carriers. However, if GBS is passed on from the mother to her baby during vaginal birth, there is a risk of infection for the baby that could cause serious illness in the baby.
What are the symptoms of GBS infection in women?
  • No symptoms at all
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Urine infection
How do I know whether I am a GBS carrier?
GBS could sometimes be detected from swabs taken from your vagina or urine samples. The test may be ordered by your doctor if you have any abnormal vaginal discharge or symptoms suggestive a urine infection. However, a negative swab test does not totally guarantee that you are not a GBS carrier.
Is GBS routinely screened during pregnancy?
No, it is not routinely screened during pregnancy. Current evidence shows that screening for GBS in pregnant woman would overall NOT be beneficial. You may ask your doctor to screen you for GBS, but this is not recommended according to RCOG guidelines as a positive test may result in unnecessary and potentially harmful intervention. Large numbers of women will be given antibiotic treatment that may cause an allergic reaction possibly leading to death and there is a risk of certain strains of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
How could being a GBS carrier affect my baby?
Your baby could potentially come in contact with the GBS during vaginal delivery. However, majority of these babies do not develop any illness. Only a small number of babies develop serious GBS infection causing them to have serious lung and brain infection. It may be fatal. GBS infection could be early onset (develop less than 1 week after delivery) or late onset (develops more than 1 week)
What is the treatment given if I am a GBS carrier? Would this treatment reduce the risk?
You will be given antibiotics only if you have profuse vaginal discharge or urine infection during pregnancy. In addition, antibiotics will also be given when you are in labour (only if you are having a vaginal delivery) to reduce the risk of early onset GBS infection in your baby.
When is the antibiotic treatment not necessary?
  • GBS is detected in your vagina in a previous pregnancy and your baby was not affected.
  • GBS is accidently detected during pregnancy and you have no symptoms at all. However, your doctor may still give you antibiotics when you are in labour.
  • You have a planned elective caesarean section.

Could I deliver vaginally if I am a GBS carrier?

Yes, you could have a vaginal delivery. Antibiotics (penicillin) is given during labour to reduce the risk of GBS infection in your baby.

Could I breast feed my baby if I am a GBS carrier?
Yes, you could continue to breast feed your baby as there is no risk of transmitting GBS to your baby.
Preventing Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection in the newborn babies. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) United Kingdom, Feb 2006.

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