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Group B Strep

The general population knows very little about Group B Strep (GBS), and many pregnant women have never heard of it, or have only heard of it in passing. Most are shocked when, late in the third trimester their doctor or midwife ask them to be tested, and the test then comes back positive. There are many questions surrounding GBS. What is it? Is it an STD? How does it affect newborns? How is it transmitted to a newborn? How can you prevent infection, and are there alternatives to antibiotics?

What Is It?
GBS is a bacteria found in the lower intestines of 10-35% of all adults. In women it can also be found in the vagina. To test for it, your provider will swab the area between your vagina and anus and send it for a test sometime between the 35th and 37th weeks of your pregnancy. GBS should not be confused with the strep that causes sore throat, Group A Strep. GBS is not contagious, and in most cases it causes no harm to the adult that has it. However, in some cases, it can cause serious infection, known as Group B Strep disease.

Is It An STD?
Since it can be found in the vagina, many people assume that GBS is a STD, which is not true.It is simply a bacterium that is found in many people. It causes no discomfort and can not be transmitted sexually; therefore a carrier of GBS does not need to change their sexual practices.

How Does It Affect Newborns?
Approximately 8,000 babies born each year will contract a serious form of GBS disease. Of these 8,000, as many as 600 will die and another 20% will be left permanently handicapped. If a baby is infected with GBS, will appear either as an infection in the blood (sepsis), or as meningitis. It is also a frequent cause of pneumonia in newborns. It can also leave them with hearing or vision loss, as well as physical or learning disabilities.

How Is It Transmitted To A Newborn?
GBS is transmitted to a newborn during their descent through the birth canal. However, having a c-section is not recommended pas a way to prevent the infection in your baby, as the bacteria can also be found in your uterus and amniotic sac.

Prevention of Infection
If a pregnant woman tests positive for GBS, she can often be given a series of penicillin shots through an IV while in labor, prior to delivery. It is best to get these shots at least 4 hours prior to delivery. In most cases, if the woman has these shots, the baby will not be infected. If time does not permit for the woman to receive these shots, then immediately after birth the nurses will give your baby a shot of penicillin in the leg, to help prevent infection. In this case a mother will normally be asked to stay in the hospital for 48 hours in order for the neonatal team to watch the newborn for signs of infection.

Alternatives to Antibiotics
There have been no studies showing the success of alternative and/or home remedies in the prevention of the passage of GBS to your newborn. However, there are some that doctors and midwives may suggest you try.

Vaginal washing and immunotherapy have been suggested as a way to help clean out your vagina. Some practitioners have suggested supplements for the mother. These supplements include garlic, vitamin C, echinacea, and/or bee propolis. After a series of these supplements a woman can be retested to see if the bacterium has disappeared. This has worked in many, but not all cases of GBS in pregnant women.

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