Strep B

What is strep B?

Strep B sounds more serious that it usually is.

It is a commonly occurring and rarely harmful bacteria in our bodies and about one in every five women in Australia have it in their system without any noticeable symptoms.

For the most part, babies exposed to strep B (its medical name is Group B streptococcus) before or during birth are born without any complications. However, for some women, strep B can cause serious illness and sometimes death in newborn babies.

These cases are rare but if left untreated newborn babies who contract a strep B infection can become ill with serious illnesses, such as:

  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Pyelonephritis
  • Gastroenteritis

Thankfully, the rate of newborn deaths from strep B is declining in Australian maternity hospitals, due to increased strep B preventative screenings.

Symptoms of having strep B in your system

It's hard to know if you have strep B, because the bacteria don t usually cause any noticeable symptoms.

Also, even if you do discover that you have strep B in your system early on in your pregnancy, there's a good chance that the bacteria could have disappeared by the time you are ready to give birth.

At 36 weeks, it's common for your doctor, obstetrician or midwife to test whether strep B is present in your vagina using a vaginal or anal swab.

If you get a positive test result, try not to panic. You can be administered with intravenous antibiotics during labour. This will reduce the risk of strep B infection to your baby.

Risk factors of strep B infection in newborns

It's impossible to know for sure if any one baby will contract a strep B infection. However, there are some common factors that might prompt your doctor or midwife to test for strep B infection, including:

  • You have already had a baby who has been infected with strep B
  • You have tested positive for strep B after at 36 weeks of pregnancy in the past
  • You go into labour prematurely or your labour is excessively long
  • You show signs of infection during labour or delivery
  • Your waters break 18 or more hours before you give birth

If none of the above situations apply to you, your baby is very unlikely to develop a strep B infection.

Treatment for strep B infection

Most mothers and babies can safely be given penicillin or another antibiotic to treat strep B infections.

However, newborn babies have very low immune systems, so antibiotics at such a young age can cause other side effects, such as thrush or diarrhoea. If your doctor or midwife suspects that your newborn baby is infected with strep B, they might recommend monitoring your newborn baby with regular tests over a 48-hour period to see if they improve naturally before giving them antibiotics.

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