Protect Your Unborn Baby From Infections
UK National Charity supports International Prenatal Infection Awareness Month 1 to 28 February 2014
February is International Prenatal Infection Awareness Month, the aim is to help women who are pregnant prevent infection and keep their unborn baby safe and healthy. National charity Group B Strep Supports says “If you are pregnant, you should make sure you know about group B Streptococcus.”
Group B Strep (or GBS) is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies in the UK, causing sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia, usually within the first week of life. It is carried by around one in 4 women, usually without any symptoms, but it can by passed from a mother to her baby around birth. When antibiotics are offered during labour to women who are carrying GBS, 90% of these infections can be prevented.
At least 10 babies a week in the UK are infected by group B Strep and, even with the best medical care, 10% of these sick babies will die and some survivors will suffer long-term problems, including cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. Yet, the UK does not routinely test for GBS, or even inform pregnant women about the condition.
The charity Group B Strep Support campaigns for better awareness of this devastating infection and wants to see everyone pregnant women between 35 and 37 weeks of their pregnancy given the opportunity to be informed, tested and if found to be GBS positive, offered antibiotics during labour to protect the baby. Incidences of GBS infection in newborn babies in countries that routinely offer antenatal tests for GBS have dramatically fallen –in the US by over 80% – whereas the UK has seen the incidence increase by 50% in the decade from 2000.
The recent decision by the Department of Health to stop the introduction of the ‘gold standard’ Enriched Culture Medium (ECM) test for GBS carriage, scheduled to start from 1st January 2014, left Group B Strep Support shocked and appalled by the last-minute U-turn. The charity continues to campaign for ECM tests to be available for health professionals to request when in their professional judgement it is appropriate to determine a pregnant woman’s GBS carriage status.
The ECM test is internationally recognised as being the best test currently available to detect GBS carriage, unlike the ‘general purpose’ test which will miss between 30-50% of GBS carriers. Without GBS-specific testing, pregnant mothers who are at ‘higher risk’ will not be identified, preventative antibiotics will not offered in labour and GBS infection in newborn babies will continue to take their toll.
Group B Strep Support’s Chief Executive, Jane Plumb MBE, whose middle child died from GBS infection, says, “Every mother-to-be should be informed about group B Strep during her antenatal care and, if she or her health professional wants her to be tested for it in pregnancy, the ‘gold standard’ test should be available on the NHS. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ risk-based guideline5 introduced in 2003 have not resulted in the falls in incidence we’d all hoped for. Being able to test pregnant women for group B Strep within the NHS will I believe make a significant impact on the numbers of babies suffering preventable GBS infection.”
Group B Strep Support is asking that:
- Information about group B Strep should be routinely given to all women as part of their antenatal care
- Sensitive testing for group B Strep should be made freely available within the NHS and available at the request of pregnant women and their health professionals
- Antibiotics should be offered intravenously in labour to all mums whose babies are known to be at higher risk of developing GBS infection
- The use of the ‘standard’ test within the NHS for the detection of GBS carriage in pregnancy should cease and vaginal swabs taken from pregnant women should always be tested using a method that offers good sensitivity for GBS dictation.
Jane Plumb MBE adds, “The Government should act now to ensure women get the very best advice and support during their pregnancy. This includes giving information on the serious nature of group B Strep infection, offering testing late in pregnancy, followed by antibiotics during labour where appropriate to protect the baby from infection.”