Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a common bacteria in adults. About 1 in 3 men and women have it in their intestines and are known as “carriers.” It is part of their normal intestinal bacterial flora and causes no problems for them.
It is not a sexually transmitted bacteria. Most adults get the bacteria from food.
In female carriers, the bacteria can often be found in the birth canal.
Unfortunately, babies are very susceptible to it. If they come in contact with the bacteria during the descent down the birth canal, they can become infected and get very sick.
Pneumonia, meningitis, and infection in the blood (known as sepsis) are common types of newborn GBS infections.
Because a GBS infection can be severely harmful for a newborn, your health care provider will likely test you to see if you are a carrier. This is usually done when you are about 35 to 37 weeks pregnant. Your doctor will use a small cotton swab to obtain a sample of any bacteria present in the vaginal and rectal area.
If you are found to be a GBS carrier, intravenous antibiotics will be recommended when you go into labor to kill the bacteria before the baby descends through the birth canal. Penicillin is often used. If you are allergic to penicillin, do tell your health care provider so that another type of antibiotic can be used. Antibiotics are very effective and most women who get these antibiotics will rarely have a problem with a newborn GBS infection.
If you are a GBS carrier, the chance of your baby developing a GBS infection is about 1 in 200 if you decline antibiotics and only about 1 in 4000 if you do receive them.