By the bioMérieux Connection Editors
July is International Group B Strep Awareness Month, which strives to raise awareness and increase public knowledge of group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections. For the past 21 years, this campaign has served as an opportunity to generate discussions about GBS and how to properly prevent, recognize, and treat the disease. As a leading cause of sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia in infants, expanding public and clinical awareness of GBS is crucial.
Group B Streptococcus are normal bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal and genital tracts. They are not always harmful, but they can cause serious illness in people of all ages, with infections being more prevalent in newborn infants. GBS can be passed to the infant from the pregnant mother during birth and delivery. A reported 18% of women will carry GBS bacteria during pregnancy. Most women will not experience any symptoms but are at an increased risk of passing the bacteria to their baby.
GBS infections in newborns are classified as either early or late onset, with approximately 80% of infant infections occurring during the first days of life. Worldwide, an estimated 320,000 babies are infected with GBS each year. GBS infections can become very serious, resulting in an array of clinical complications and blood infections, such as sepsis and soft tissue infections. Among babies, 4 – 6% of newborns with GBS disease die, and among non-pregnant adults, about 1 in 20 with serious infections die.
Reported cases of invasive GBS bacteria in adults and newborns began to increase in the 1960s. Throughout the decades since, there have been advances in screening, diagnosis, and treatment of GBS disease.
Early GBS pregnancy screening paired with appropriate antibiotic treatment helps effectively monitor, diagnose, prevent transmission of bacteria, and treat infections. Administering antibiotics to the mother during delivery has been shown to limit the risk of bacterial transfer from mother to infant.
However, as reports of reduced antibiotic susceptibilities in invasive GBS bacteria rise, we must take steps to implement antimicrobial stewardship practices and programs to help preserve antibiotic efficacy. Public and clinical awareness of antimicrobial resistance and GBS are essential to ensure that antibiotics still work to treat early and late onset infections. Additionally, diagnostic tools can aid healthcare providers in choosing the appropriate treatment.
GBS infections remain significant among high-risk populations. Therefore, spreading awareness globally of GBS continues to be essential. With increased recognition, we can work to preserve antibiotic treatment and contribute toward lowering infection rates and deaths worldwide.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.