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Raising awareness and introducing universal screening of the infection is key to preventing injury and death from this infection.
By Ben Lees
Recent research published by consumer research company, Bounty Media, reveals that 41 per cent of pregnant women have never heard of Group B Streptococcus infection (‘GBS’). This is despite the fact that GBS is the most common cause of death recorded on the death certificates of newborn babies.
In a recent article published in The Telegraph, Katie Doherty tells the story of her newborn baby’s death. Lola died at just one week old after sleeping together with Katie in her bed. For months afterwards, Katie believed that she had accidentally suffocated Lola and her grief was compounded by feelings of guilt. In fact, a subsequent post-mortem and Coroner’s report concluded that Lola had died of GBS infection. Had a short course of antibiotics been provided during Katie’s labour, this tragedy could have been prevented.
Despite already being a mother of two when pregnant with Lola, Katie had never heard of GBS, adding that “at no point did [her] midwife or anyone else mention it”.
Jane Plumb, Chief Executive of Group B Strep Support, a charity that campaigns for all pregnant women to be offered a test for the infection on the NHS, says that she finds it “astounding” that women are not routinely told of the dangers of Strep B by health professionals.
It seems to us that if more information were known by parents then they could have greater awareness to be alert to potential symptoms in their newborn baby and seek advice and treatment at the earliest opportunity.
Jane Plumb and Group B Strep Support work tirelessly to raise the awareness of GBS and were disappointed when the Government decided against offering all pregnant women screening for GBS in December 2012. Such screening is offered routinely in many European countries and parts of the US and incidences of missed diagnosis of Group B Strep infection have been shown to reduce as a result of the routine screening which undoubtedly has saved lives.
Further, Professor Phillip Steer, Consultant Obstetrician and Chairman of Group B Strep Support’s Medical Advisory Panel, estimates that the test would cost the NHS as little as £12 per individual.
As medical negligence solicitors we often act for children who have suffered very serious injury due to undiagnosed GBS infection and also parents who have sadly suffered the loss of their child. We therefore continue to fully support the campaign for the introduction of universal GBS screening in the UK so that tragedies such as the one that affected Katie and Lola can be avoided in the future. Emerging trends in the Epidemiology of Invasive Group B Streptococcal Disease in England and Wales, 1991-2010. Theresa L Lamagni et al. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2013; doi 10. 1093/cid/cit337.