What is group B Strep?
Group B Streptococcus (GBS, group B Strep or Strep B) is a type of bacteria which lives in the intestines, rectum, or vagina of 2 to 4 in every ten women in the UK (20 to 40%). While most women carrying GBS will have no symptoms, there is a small chance it can affect your baby around the time of birth.
GBS can occasionally cause serious infection in young babies and, very rarely, in babies before they are born. These infections include sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia. Carrying GBS can also sometimes lead to serious infections for pregnant women, though this is rare.
However, in the UK at this point, there is no routine screening for GBS during pregnancy. If it is discovered, it will be as a result of a swab or urine test for another issue.
What could group B Strep mean for my baby?
Many babies come into contact with group B Strep during labour or around birth, and the vast majority will not become ill. However, there is a small chance that your baby could develop a group B Strep infection.
In the UK, about 1 in 1,600 of all babies born develops a GBS infection. The likelihood of infection is higher if you know you carry GBS; about 1 in every 400 babies born to women known to carry GBS develop a GBS infection.
If the GBS infection is not treated, babies can become seriously ill. But with prompt treatment, most babies will make a full recovery, making early detection vital.
Group B Strep infections are most common in newborn babies during their first few days after birth. However, babies can still develop group B Strep infections up to three months of age, and in very rare cases, beyond three months.
To reflect this, group B strep infections are often split into two categories: early-onset and late-onset infections:
Early-onset group B Strep infections are those in babies up to seven days old, and occur in around 1 in every 1,750 babies in the UK and Ireland.
Of the babies who develop an early-onset GBS infection, 1 in 19 (5.2%) will die.
Of those who survive an early-onset GBS infection, 1 in 14 (7.4%) will have a long-term physical or mental disability.
Late-onset group B Strep infections develop in babies older than seven days, and occur in around 1 in every 2,700 babies in the UK and Ireland.
Of those who develop a late-onset GBS infection, 1 in 13 (7.7%) will die.
Of those who survive a late-onset GBS infection, 1 in 8 (12.4%) will have a long-term physical or mental disability.
Ok enough facts and figures for now; time to share with you a story that I never wanted to have to share.
Why Strep B awareness is so important to me
Earlier this year I invited my friend Amy over to the studio to do a bit of maternity modelling for me, as she was expecting her second son and I wanted to try out some new ideas. Baby Teddy was born on Coronation weekend, and I was thrilled to meet him a week later for his newborn shoot. As he was a little unsettled on the day, we got as much as we could and I arranged for Amy to come back another day to get the last few pictures. The night before that day, Teddy was rushed to hospital, and I’ll let Amy tell the story in her own words (words from Group B Strep Support awareness post);
Amy, mum to Teddy, says:
At 36 weeks, my midwife told us of a trial [GBS3] they were doing to know if a pregnant woman was carrying strep B. This is the first time I had ever heard of strep B. This was not something mentioned to me during my first pregnancy with Ronnie. The results came back positive. I did a lot of research into it and was told I would have antibiotics* in labour; however, once I was in active labour, I gave birth within an hour and they didn’t have time to get the antibiotics into me. However, they continued to monitor Teddy for 12 hours after birth.
Teddy was a healthy baby boy, and we brought him home the same evening he was born. His brother Ronnie loved him from the get-go. The day Teddy turned one month old was like any other day. I had spent the afternoon at my mum’s and left around 6pm. Teddy started to cry at around 7pm, which wasn’t anything out of the ordinary as he was quite a colicky baby. He fell to sleep in my arms, and we went to bed around 10pm. He didn’t have his bottle like normal.
I woke up at midnight and had the urge to take his temp. It was 39 degrees. I packed a bag and went to A&E. His condition worsened in the 15 mins it had taken me to get to the hospital. His breathing had now gone strange, and his skin had changed colour. They immediately knew something was wrong and got him hooked up to oxygen and antibiotics.
Teddy was then sedated and blue-lighted to a nearby children’s intensive care unit. Here we were told that Teddy’s blood cultures had returned positive for strep B sepsis with suspected meningitis. It was very very hit-and-miss as his heart rate was super high. He also had two blood transfusions.
Eventually, all his stats came back to normal. We were told that Teddy was on the road to recovery, so we were over the moon. However, that happiness soon turned to sadness as his soft spot (fontanelle) started to swell, and he was taken for an MRI. Here we came to realise that the infection had affected his whole brain. We got taken into a side room and knew it wouldn’t be good news. We were told that the damage to his brain was so bad that as soon as the machines were all turned off his body wouldn’t be able to breathe on its own.
Teddy fought right to the very end. His dad, Jack, and I had to make the heart-breaking decision to turn off his machines. Even after this, Teddy fought longer than what the doctors thought. Unfortunately, Teddy passed away in our arms, being only five weeks old. Leaving us all devastated.
*Although antibiotics in labour will prevent most early-onset group B Strep infections, they cannot prevent those developing after the first week of life.
How I intend to make a difference
In October, on the weekends of 14th/15th and 21st/22nd, I will be running a series of mini shoots raising money for Group B Strep Support charity. The theme will be autumn colours with pumpkins, and 100% of the profit will go to Group B Strep Support. Teddy’s death has devastated his family, but the ripple effect has been that so many others, myself included, have been affected by his tragic loss. Please everyone help me by signing up to this fundraiser. I can’t do it alone, I need lots of people to take up a potential 40 slots so we can raise as much money in Teddy’s name as possible. I will be releasing slots to be booked in 2 weeks so please share my page like crazy so we get them all filled.