Group B Strep is a global issue
Group B Strep (GBS or Strep B) is a bacteria carried by around 1 in 4 people.
Most Strep B infections in babies are early-onset, occurring in the baby’s first 6 days.
Late-onset Strep B infections are less common, and very rare after age 3 months.
Most early-onset Strep B infections can be prevented by giving antibiotics in labour to women carrying Strep B.
Strep B also causes infections in adults: in the elderly, women who are pregnant or around the time of childbirth, and in the immunocompromised.
Each year, around the world:
- 21 million women are carrying Strep B when they give birth.
- 33,000 women develop invasive Strep B infection during pregnancy or shortly after birth
- 57,000 babies are stillborn with Strep B infection
- 320,000 babies develop invasive Strep B infection.
- 90,000 babies under 3 months die from Strep B infection
Ways to prevent early-onset Strep B infection:
Intravenous (IV) antibiotics given in labour are very effective at preventing early-onset Strep B infection. Worldwide, two strategies are used to select who to offer IV antibiotics to:
- Routine testing of pregnant women
- Risk factors
Most high-income countries routinely offer pregnant women a test for Strep B carriage and offer the IV antibiotics in labour to those whose result is positive, plus to those where other risk factors are present. Middle and low-income countries usually either use risk factors to determine who to offer the IV antibiotics in labour, or have no policy.
Countries that offer routine testing have seen their rates fall. Using risk factors has not shown the same success.
For example, in the UK & Republic of Ireland, the rate of early-onset Strep B infection went up by 19% between 2000 and 2015, despite the risk-factor approach being introduced in 2003.
In the USA where screening is routine, the rate of early-onset Strep B infection fell by 86% between the early 1990s and 2018.
We urgently need a vaccine to prevent Strep B infections. A vaccine could:
- prevent both early- and late-onset Strep B infections
- prevent maternal infections and stillbirths
- reduce the use of antibiotics
- save money and resources and
- most importantly, save lives and prevent disability.