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Group B strep screening 'can cut risk to newborns'

Routine screening of pregnant women for the bacterial infection can dramatically cut incidence in newborns, trust's research suggests
Strep B screening

Screening pregnant women for the bacterial infection Group B strep (GBS) can dramatically cut the risk to newborns, research suggests.

A study by London North West Healthcare NHS Trust found that with screening there was an 83% drop in the number of babies developing GBS, which is the most common cause of severe infection in newborns.

At present the NHS does not recommend screening for GBS, but women living in other countries, including the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia, are routinely offered the test.

'Too many cases'

London North West Healthcare NHS Trust said it carried out the pilot study because too many babies at the trust were developing GBS, despite it following NHS recommendations on managing risk.

Screening pregnant women for the bacterial infection Group B strep (GBS) can dramatically cut the risk to newborns, research suggests.


Women living in the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia are routinely offered screening
for Group B strep during pregnancy. Picture: iStock

A study by London North West Healthcare NHS Trust found that with screening there was an 83% drop in the number of babies developing GBS, which is the most common cause of severe infection in newborns.

At present the NHS does not recommend screening for GBS, but women living in other countries, including the US, Canada, France, Germany and Slovenia, are routinely offered the test.

'Too many cases'

London North West Healthcare NHS Trust said it carried out the pilot study because too many babies at the trust were developing GBS, despite it following NHS recommendations on managing risk.

GBS caused the death of one-day-old Pippa Griffiths last year, while she was under the care of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. A coroner ruled her death could have been prevented if GBS had been spotted earlier.

A post-mortem showed that GBS was also a factor in the death of newborn Jack Burn, who died at the trust in 2015. 

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered an investigation into at least seven avoidable baby deaths that occurred within two years at the trust.

Meningitis

GBS is the most common cause of meningitis in babies under three months and can also cause septicaemia and pneumonia.

Around one in five pregnant women in the UK carries GBS in their digestive system or their vagina and some babies become infected during birth.

Symptoms of GBS in babies include being floppy and unresponsive, not feeding well, grunting, having a high or low temperature, and fast or slow breathing or heart rate.

In the new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, more than 6,000 pregnant women received a screening test for GBS in the form of vaginal swabs. Women who tested positive for GBS were offered antibiotics during labour to reduce the chance of passing on the infection to their baby.

Over the 22-month study, three babies developed GBS, one of whom was born to a woman who had been screened. Analysis suggested an 83% drop in the rate of GBS infections in babies born to screened mothers.

Evidence of benefit

Northwick Park Hospital consultant microbiologist Gopal Rao, who led the study, said: 'Our pilot study demonstrated that not only is screening doable in a UK setting, it had an even greater effect than we had expected.'

Last month, the UK National Screening Committee rejected GBS screening in pregnancy, as there was 'insufficient evidence' of its benefit.

Health minister Philip Dunne has asked the National Institute for Health Research to commission a clinical trial on the issue.


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