Group B streptococcus is a bacteria that commonly exists on and in the body. However, Group B strep can become a problem when it is transmitted to a fetus or baby during pregnancy or childbirth. If the infection is not treated or the baby is not properly monitored, a birth infection can lead to sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis.
What is a Group B Streptococcus Infection in Childbirth?
Group B streptococcus is not uncommon and it occurs naturally in a lot of people at any given time. This bacteria can live in the gastrointestinal or genital tracts. However, bacteria like streptococcus can be harmful to those with weak or compromised immune systems, like infants, the elderly, and those with autoimmune diseases.
When Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria takes hold and the individual is not easily able to fight off the infection, it can lead to more serious conditions, like:
- Bacteremia (infection in the bloodstream)
- Bone infection
- Joint infection
- Meningitis (infection in the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
- Skin infection
- Septic shock
What Causes Group B Streptococcus?
Group B strep occurs naturally. GBS becomes a problem in childbirth when the bacteria is passed onto the baby during delivery through the vaginal canal. If GBS is present in the mother’s genital tract or gastrointestinal tract during childbirth, the child may be exposed to the bacteria from the vagina or rectum.
Even though Group B strep is naturally occurring in many mothers, it is rarely passed on to the fetus. Only about 1% to 2% of babies develop a GBS infection when the mother does not receive antibiotic treatment. When the mother receives antibiotic treatment during labor, the chances of the baby developing a GBS infection are much lower.
How Did I Get Group B Strep?
Some mothers with GBS blame themselves for contracting the bacteria but it is commonly occurring in many people. About 25% of healthy adult women have GBS in their bodies. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and it is not spread through food or water. It is not a sign of bad health or poor hygiene. GBS may be present in the mother’s body before, during, or after childbirth. It is also different from Group A streptococcus, which can cause strep throat.
Some people are at increased risk of developing GBS disease or passing it on to their newborns. This includes mothers who test positive for GBS bacteria late in pregnancy, develop a fever during labor, or have delayed delivery after their water breaks. A prior pregnancy with GBS is also a higher risk for later GBS infection.
Preterm delivery can also put the baby at a higher risk of developing an infection. Some medical conditions can also increase the risk of GBS disease, including:
- Heart disease
- Congestive heart failure (CHF)
Signs and Symptoms of Group B Streptococcus Infection
The concerning part about GBS is that it can occur shortly after delivery or develop weeks later. This is known as early-onset GBS disease or late-onset GBS disease.
Early-onset Group B streptococcus usually occurs within the first week after birth, generally within the first 48 hours. The signs and symptoms of early-onset GBS may include:
- Feeding problems
- Difficulty breathing
- Cyanosis or bluish color of the skin
With late-onset GBS, the babies may show no signs or symptoms of any problems immediately after birth. The signs and symptoms of GBS may only appear after the child develops a more serious infection, like bacteremia or pneumonia. Depending on the type of infection and where the GBS infection takes hold, signs or symptoms of late-onset GBS may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Swollen tissue or joints
- Drainage or pus from skin infections
- Joint stiffness
The mother who carried the Group B streptococcus bacteria will likely show no signs of carrying the bacteria unless the mother also develops an infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Group B Streptococcus Infection
The mother can be tested for GBS with a simple swab culture test from the vagina and rectum. This is generally part of routine prenatal care and the culture is taken in the 3rd trimester, at around 36 weeks of pregnancy. If the culture comes back positive for GBS, the mother will generally receive antibiotic treatment when the mother goes into labor.
For babies with late-onset GBS, the infection may not have occurred during delivery and could be passed on to the baby during breastfeeding or from exposure in the environment, hospital, or from another person. Testing a baby for GBS may be done when the child has a fever, to test the blood for bacterial cultures, including Group B streptococcus. Treatment for a child who develops GBS includes antibiotics.
Will My Child Be Okay After a Group B Streptococcus Infection?
In a mother with GBS, there is already a low risk of infection. With proper care, testing, treatment, and antibiotics administered during labor, a baby developing GBS is relatively rare. Testing and antibiotics are among the most effective ways to reduce the risk of GBS in babies. However, if the mother or baby is not properly monitored or treated, GBS can cause serious injury.
Complications of GBS can include deafness, mental impairment, developmental delays, seizures, and lung disease. For some infants, Group B streptococcus can be fatal.
Cerebral palsy can be caused if the child develops bacterial meningitis from GBS. Cerebral palsy is “a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth.” Spastic is the most common type of cerebral palsy, and can be characterized by increased muscle tone, muscle stiffness, and uncontrolled movements.
Was My Doctor Responsible for the Group B Streptococcus Infection Injury?
Doctors are held to a certain standard of care. If a doctor fails to provide the minimum standard of care which causes an injury or is fatal to the mother or baby, the doctor may be responsible for any injuries. If a doctor fails to properly test, monitor, or inform the mother about the risks of GBS, it may be considered medical negligence.
Infection Birth Injury Lawyers
If your child suffered an infection during childbirth and you are concerned that the doctors and nurses did not do enough to address your concerns, the damage may have been caused by medical negligence. Contact your birth injury medical malpractice attorney to understand your rights.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate birth injuries to determine if the injury was caused by malpractice Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to birth injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.