This is not to be confused with Group A Strep or “strep throat”, it is an infection caused by a common bacterium normally found in the intestine, vagina, and rectum area in about 25% of all healthy adult and pregnant women. The infection can be spread to infants before or during delivery. In the USA approximately 19,800 cases of this disease occur annually across all ages, and is the most common cause of neonatal sepsis and meningitis in this country.
It can infect adults with certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer. The risk factor increases with age, with the highest rate in adults 65 years and older. The incidence of neonatal group B strep infection has been decreasing, while the non-pregnant adult cases have been increasing. It is naturally found in 25% of all healthy adult and pregnant women, and most that have the bacteria have no symptoms, unless under certain circumstances, infection can develop. In newborn infants the GBS (Group B Strep) can develop in the first week and on to 3 months of age, and is contracted through direct contact with the mother’s bacteria while in the uterus or during delivery. 50% of colonized mothers will pass on the bacteria to their babies. Not all babies will be affected, only 1 in 100-200 babies born to a GBS colonized mother will actually go on to develop the infection. It is more common is African Americans than in other races. There are other maternal risks that increase the chance of transmitting the disease to the baby, including:
- Labor or membrane rupture before 37 weeks gestation
- Membrane rupture more than 18 hours before delivery
- Urinary tract infection with GBS during pregnancy
- History of prior delivery or baby with infection
- Fever during labor
- Positive results of colonization at 35-37 weeks
GBS infections occur more in babies who are born prematurely, before 37 weeks, and in those babies whose mother tested positive for GBS during pregnancy. The signs to look for in babies include fever, breathing problems or grunting sounds, bluish-colored skin, seizures, limpness or stiffness, abnormal heart rate or blood pressure, fussy or poor feeding, vomiting, diarrhea.
Signs to look for in adults include bloodstream infections (sepsis), skin and soft tissue infections, bone and joint infection, lung infection, urinary tract infection, and rare but still possible, an infection of the fluid and tissues in the brain (meningitis).
Group B strep infections may be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics; however CDC states that if the mother has tested positive for GBS the chances of delivering a baby with the disease are 1 in 200 without antibiotics and 1 in 4000 with antibiotics. While it is good to note that no-one wants to pass a disease to their baby through the birth canal, there is a valuable exchange of microflora during a vaginal birth which forms the beginning of the baby’s immune system. Antibiotics used during birth puts this natural exchange at risk, so use antibiotics if all other methods of correcting bacterial imbalance have been tried to no avail.
GBS infections in adults include urinary tract infection, skin and soft-tissue infection bacteremia without focus, osteomyelitis, meningitis and endocarditis. The GBS infection in adults can be serious, and mortality is higher among adults than infants. Generally, maternal-specific antibodies transferred from the mother to the newborn are able to confer protection to babies against GBS infection. Vaccinations may be available in the future, and are being developed to control the opportunistic bacterium, which is mostly harmless except in the rare circumstances when it becomes harmful through severe invasive infections.
References: MedicineNet.com, www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep
Dr Sally Warren, PhD, ND, NC, MH
Metro Integrative Pharmacy
Advice from the Naturopath:
There are some good natural ways to reduce the risk of the GBS getting out of control and infecting other areas of the body. If you are pregnant you can choose to try alternative therapies.
High potency probiotic supplements
Vitamin C – supports the immune system and strengthens the amniotic sac to prevent early rupture, which can lead to infections
Burdock root and Echinacea root
Echinacea and astragalus tinctures –
Grapefruit seed extract
Dr. Sally Warren, PhD
Board Certified Traditional Naturopathic Doctor, Metro Integrative Pharmacy
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.