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Group B Strep in Newborns: What You Should Know

Worried young couple looking at their premature newborn in an incubator with oxygen at neonatal intensive care unit.

Group B Streptococcus, also called Group B Strep or GBS, is a type of bacteria found in the genital tract and intestines. Many people carry Group B Strep, including about 25% of pregnant women, and most don’t even know it. Most people with Group B Strep don’t have any symptoms, and it is generally not harmful to those who are infected. However, that is not always true when a vulnerable newborn contracts Group B Strep. Infants may contract Group B Strep from their mothers during the delivery process or in their first few months of life, and the effects can be devastating. Here’s what you should know about Group B Strep in newborns.

What Can a Group B Strep Infection Do to a Newborn? 

An infant with a Group B Strep infection may have serious complications, including sepsis, meningitis, or pneumonia, any of which can be deadly to a vulnerable newborn. Babies who survive may still have serious problems, such as a seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, or learning difficulties. 

Symptoms of a Group B Strep infection in a newborn can include:

  • Breathing problems, including apnea
  • Feeding difficulties, including difficulty latching onto the breast
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin coloring, typically from lack of oxygen)
  • Seizures
  • Unstable body temperature or fever
  • Limp muscles or stiff muscles
  • Unusual irritability, anxiety, or fussiness

What Are the Risk Factors for Group B Strep in Newborns?

The leading risk factor for a newborn is a mother who tested positive for Group B Strep. Other risk factors include:

  • Premature delivery (before 37 weeks)
  • A mother who previously delivered a baby with Group B Strep
  • Premature rupture of the membranes 
  • Membranes rupture over 18 hours prior to delivery
  • Elevated temperature during labor
  • Inflammation of the fetal membranes (chorioamnionitis)
  • Mother had a urinary tract infection (UTI) during the pregnancy due to GBS

How Is Group B Strep Diagnosed? 

If a baby is exhibiting symptoms consistent with a Group B Strep infection, a doctor may draw a blood sample or a sample of spinal fluid for testing. The results of lab tests typically take a few days to come back, during which time a child’s condition could get much worse. 

Because of the risk associated with a Group B Strep infection in a newborn, and because it is so common for mothers to both carry the bacteria and be asymptomatic, doctors should test pregnant women before they give birth. This is typically done by swabbing the vagina or rectum and testing the sample. If the mother is positive, steps can be taken to minimize risk to her baby. Most commonly, this involves giving certain antibiotics intravenously to the mother during labor. If a woman has tested positive for Group B Strep, her doctor may give her antibiotics even if she has a C-section rather than a vaginal birth.

Because of the likelihood of the bacteria growing back, it is not possible to prevent Group B Strep infection with antibiotics given before labor. The infection can come and go, so it is important to test the mother for Group B Strep late in the pregnancy, usually between 35-37 weeks. A previous negative test result or previous treatment does not mean that a mother cannot pass on a Group B Strep infection to her newborn. 

According to the CDC, a woman who tests positive for Group B Strep and receives antibiotics during labor has a 1 in 4,000 chance of passing an infection on to her newborn. A woman who tests positive, but does not receive antibiotics has a 1 in 200 chance of passing on the infection. While this is still a small chance, the risk of a Group B infection is still 20 times greater than it would be had the mother received treatment. Considering the potential harm from an infection, and the ease of minimizing risk, a doctor who fails to take reasonable measures to prevent infection may be guilty of medical malpractice

If your doctor failed to test you for Group B Strep during your pregnancy, or tested you and failed to properly treat you, and your baby had complications from Group B strep, you may be entitled to payment. To learn whether you have a claim against your doctor or other care providers, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation. You have only a limited amount of time in which to file a claim, and your child’s care as a result of their birth injury may be very costly, so you should not delay in seeking help. 

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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