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Group B Strep Awareness Month: injuries to newborn babies from untreated GBS infection

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    In this third blog during Group B Strep Awareness month, we look at the potential impact of undiagnosed/untreated GBS for newborn babies and the injuries that can be suffered.

    By Kerstin Kubiak

Group B Streptococcus (also known as Group B Strep or GBS) is bacteria which many adults have without knowledge or symptoms, but in some cases it can cause infection and this can be a particular problem for pregnant women. The NHS Choices website states it is estimated that 1 in 5 pregnant women have strep B bacteria in their reproductive system and/or digestive system. It is possible for Group B Strep to be passed to a pregnant women’s baby either through the amniotic fluid or during vaginal delivery as the baby passes through the birth canal.

What happens if a newborn baby contracts Group B Strep?

For many babies, contracting GBS will not then cause any problems.

Newborn babies, particularly if they are premature, generally have less developed immune systems and so problems can arise if they develop Group B Strep infection as it can take hold and spread through their body very quickly.

Thankfully, GBS infection can be treated if caught early by giving antibiotics to the baby. If not treated, GBS can travel to the brain where it can cause an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain, known as meningitis, and damage to the baby’s developing brain.  Children who have suffered from GBS meningitis and brain damages may later be diagnosed with cerebral palsy and experience a number of permanent problems, depending on the areas of the brain which have been affected.  Some babies will sadly not survive the infection.

Statistics for GBS infection and injuries

At present, treatment of GBS infection in pregnant women and newborn babies is based on a risk approach, where only women with specific risk factors for GBS are tested, and my colleague wrote about this last week. This approach means that many pregnant women will not know that they have GBS and the potential risks of passing this to their baby.

Leading GBS Charity, Group B Strep Support, have campaigned for many years for routine testing for GBS in all pregnant women, so that antibiotics can be given if GBS is detected. This is an approach adopted in many other countries and research has shown a reduction in the number of babies dying and suffering significant injuries as a result of GBS infection.

Group B Strep Support published the following statistics based on 700,000 babies born annually in the UK and on the present risk based approach to testing and treatment of GBS:

  • 230,000 babies would be born to mothers who carry GBS;
  • Of these 88,000 babies (1 in 8) become colonised with GBS;
  • 700 babies would develop GBS infections, usually within 24 hours of birth;
  • 75 babies (11% of infected babies) would die;
  • Of the survivors of GBS meningitis, up to one half suffer long-term mental and/or physical problems, from mild to severe learning disabilities, loss of sight, loss of hearing and lung damage.

Compensation for injuries

I and my colleagues have acted for a number of children who have suffered injuries due to undiagnosed and untreated GBS infection as a result of failings in their medical care.

When a child suffers permanent brain damages as a result of GBS infection, this can cause permanent physical and/or mental disability and a lifetime of additional needs. Depending on the severity of the injuries suffered, compensation claims will include the costs of:

  • Care;
  • Aids and equipment;
  • Accommodation;
  • Therapies, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, psychological therapy;
  • Transport;
  • Loss of earnings;
  • Education costs.

I will be considering a real case example in a blog next week to highlight the importance of diagnosing and treating GBS infection in newborn babies.

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