It shocks me how many people do not know about Group B Strep (GBS). It’s caused by the bacteria streptococcus, that can be carried in your body yet present no symptoms. The only way to find out you have it, is to test for it. However, during labour, your baby can become colonised with it and it can cause complications. It is one of the most common causes of infection in newborn babies. A simple treatment of intravenous antibiotics in labour can prevent the transmission of this and in turn, prevent problems from occurring. The big issue is the ignorance surrounding it. It’s not talked about. It’s not tested for. And if you have it, you may not even know. To find out if you do have it, the ECM home testing kit is the best option. It is highly sensitive and was designed specifically for this purpose. It uses an Enriched Culture Medium method, as well as two swabs (one vaginal, one rectal). When properly performed within five weeks of delivery, a negative result was 96% predictive of not carrying GBS at birth and a positive result was 87% predictive of carrying GBS at delivery. The NHS test is a low vaginal swab, which is unselective and produces a high proportion of false negatives. The positive result can be trusted, but the negative is something of which to be wary as it can miss 50% of GBS carriers, at the time the swab was taken.
The ECM test is simple enough. However, here in the UK, we do not routinely test women in pregnancy for GBS and the test offered (it at all offered in the first place) via the NHS rarely uses the reliable method.
It really boils my blood that there are ways to effectively test and treat this, yet we don’t. I was one of the lucky ones and the fact that I carry this bacteria was picked up during my first pregnancy when I had my urine tested for other reasons. I dread to think what could have happened had it gone undetected and no treatment given whilst birthing my darling Molly. And once I was identified as GBS postitive, I was treated during my labour with little Aoife and will be for any subsequent pregnancies I have. (This varies from hospital to hospital due to the fact that it may not be necessary to give the antibiotics each pregnancy, as GBS may not be present in one pregnancy as it has been in others). I am safe because it was accidentally discovered. The same cannot be said for many women. In fact 1 in 5 women carry this bacteria yet we are not offered routine tests for it. The possibility of our infants contracting meningitis, sepsis, pneumonia and the possibility of fatality, seem to not be enough to prompt changes to be made and reliable routine testing in pregnancy to be rolled out. This is wrong. Furthermore, it’s actually disgraceful when the test would only cost £35 to carry out privately, and only £11 approximately on the NHS. The fact that it is so common, and the effects so heart wrenchingly awful, makes the lack of definitive testing something that has to be changed.
The support and information available regarding GBS is also lacking. Even after discovering I was GBS positive, I was still not offered any help or support. I was posted a leaflet telling me the bare minimum, prompting me to google more information. As a heavily pregnant 19 year old, the information google gave me not only turned my world upside down, but prompted a major overflow of emotions. A phone call to my calm and collected mum helped as she prompted me to ring my midwife. I chatted with the midwives on the labour ward where I would birth my baby, and they reassured me the antibiotics I would receive in labour would protect my baby. If you have GBS, the risk of your baby being colonized with it is 50%. If a carrier of GBS is treated during labour, the risk of infection being passed across to her baby drops by a massive 80%. With statistics like that, the fact that the tests are not carried out to determine whether treatment is needed, is pretty darn horrific. Why I was not told about the effectiveness of the treatment, I do not know. The support for this needs to change. There needs to be somewhere people know to go to for help, advice, support and someone to talk to when they find out they’re carriers. I never had any of this and felt extremely overwhelmed and frightened. I wish now that I knew about Group B Strep Support.
Group B Strep Support relentlessly campaign to raise awareness and they really are working hard to change things. They have a great website that has plenty of information and their Facebook page and Twitter handle are great to follow for support, understanding the facts, and just generally raising awareness.
Had I have known about this network of support, I may not have felt so lost and overwhelmed and would have definitely been able to get the answers and help I needed. I think the whole GBS Support network is fantastic and needs to be more widely acknowledged. Maybe this is the key to helping people understand the severity of this “common bacteria” and maybe it is the stepping stones towards making it something routinely tested for in pregnancy.
They are definitely worth visiting to help with the understanding of what GBS is.
If you have the time, it’s definitely worth reading up about. Who knows who it will affect? Knowledge and awareness are key.