Strep-B in your newborn
Why you need to prevent it.
Streptococcal infections are caused by bacteria called streptococci. Minuscule disease-causing bacteria are found everywhere, including the human body, its host. Dark, warm and moist ‘hotspots’ provide the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and multiply. There are five groups of Streptococcal infections – Group A, B, C and G and D, each one causing different types of disease with different symptoms. Group B streptococci (GBS) are particularly dangerous for the newborn baby. Pregnant women carrying this bacterium are usually unaware that they are a carrier because there are no symptoms and they don’t feel ill.
The source of GBS in pregnant women is thought to be from the rectum because it’s close to the vagina. Here the bacteria quickly breed and multiply. Ten to 30 percent of pregnant women may be carrying GBS. The bacteria is passed on to the baby during a vaginal birth, and even though the risk of the baby developing the disease is low (only one to two percent) for babies who do pick up the infection, 90 percent occurs within the first 24 hours– called ‘early-onset disease’ – and this can be fatal for the baby.
“Group B Streptococcus is one of the most frequent causes of sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis in the newborn,” says Dr Olga Perovic from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Sandringham, Johannesburg. “GBS is not a sexually transmitted disease, and because colonised women have no symptoms of the disease, a culture (swab) must be taken from the vaginal and rectal areas to identify the organism.”
“The majority of GBS infections in the newborn occur within the first week of life,” explains Perovic. This is called early-onset disease, and is very dangerous. Late-onset infections begin a week after the birth, but may be seen up to three months after the birth. Late GBS usually manifests as meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord). “Late infections could be caused by a source other than the mother,”warns Perovic. “These may be caused by an infection in the hospital called nosocomial infections.” You should be alert if your newborn seems to be unwell.
You should take your baby to the doctor or go to the clinic without hesitation if your baby has any of the following symptoms:
- Listlessness and lethargy - in other words, the baby sleeps for too long and is too tired to feed.
- The baby has a temperature.
- The baby has any difficulty breathing.
- If the baby has a fit, is "jittery" or stiff.
- The baby has jaundice.
- The baby is vomiting and has diarrhoea.
- The fontanelle ('soft spots' on the baby's skull) are swollen and tight.
- The baby's cry is high-pitched.
Cleanliness and washing hands in the hospital and at home is a priority. Nursing and all medical staff must wash their hands after working with each and every mother and baby. You also need to remember and practise basic hygiene such as washing your hands using soap and water after using the toilet. You can also boost your baby’s immunity by breastfeeding for as long as possible, and if using bottles, to sterilise them.