Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is the most common cause of death and serious illness in newborn babies, causing septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis. Most of these infections can be prevented.
In many countries including the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Kenya, Argentina, Chile, Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Oman, Poland and Switzerland, pregnant women are offered screening, using the gold standard Enriched Culture Method (ECM) test as a matter of course. The ECM test, taken at around 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy, is highly predictive of group B Strep carriage status at delivery. When GBS is detected during the current pregnancy, highly effective preventative antibiotics can be given during labour and the newborn baby can be protected from GBS infection.
Unfortunately, in the UK, routine antenatal screening for GBS is not offered. A “risk factor” approach is used which has, sadly been shown to be ineffective at reducing GBS infection in newborn babies. Furthermore, the test to detect GBS carriage that is widely available on the NHS is not the gold standard ECM test; rather a Standard Direct Plating test, which gives a false negative in around 50% of cases where a woman is carrying GBS.
Sadly, there are cases where a woman from a country where ECM testing is routine has (wrongly) assumed antenatal GBS testing would be routine in the UK and has then suffered the heartbreak of a baby infected by GBS. In the worst possible case, the baby has died.
So, given the UK NHS’ standard practice, pregnant women should find out if their health professionals can offer the gold standard ECM test. If not, they can arrange for the test to be carried out privately. Further details can be found on the website of a charity set up specifically to offer information and support on group B Strep in pregnancy, so that more of these infections can be prevented. The page which lists the NHS trusts which offer the gold standard ECM test and how to obtain it privately is http://www.gbss.org.uk/test