What is Group B strep?

July marks Group B strep awareness month, a condition which is thought to result in the death of one baby per week in the UK alone and often leaving those who have recovered from Group B strep with long-term physical and mental disabilities. Here, medical negligence solicitors Blackwater Law discuss the condition in detail.

What is Group B strep?

Group B strep refers to an infection from a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria. This type of bacteria is common in approximately 2 out of every 5 people and rarely causes a problem in itself. However, when pregnant there is a small chance that this type of bacteria could be passed on to the baby and can make the baby seriously ill or even result in death.

Those that carry the bacteria often will not know as it does not present any symptoms in itself.

What are the symptoms of Group B strep infection?

In most instances babies who have contracted the infection will develop this within the first six days after birth, however in approximately one third of cases the symptoms may present later and up until around 3 months after birth.

Symptoms may include:

  • Being floppy and unresponsive
  • A very slow or fast heartrate
  • Slow or fast breathing
  • Grunting when breathing

In some instances babies with a Group B strep infection can then go on to develop meningitis or sepsis as a result.

It is thought that unfortunately one baby per week that develops the condition is left with long term physical or mental disabilities as a result and one baby each week dies because of the infection. This makes it crucial for medical professionals to identify when a baby is presenting with symptoms and to ensure that those at risk are given antibiotics during labour to help minimise the chance of an infection developing. If this has not been completed or if the healthcare professional failed to identify many of the symptoms of the condition then it may be possible to pursue a hospital negligence claim as a result.

Risk factors for Group B strep

The only way to know whether a person is a carrier of Group B strep is testing, however in the UK this is not routinely carried out for every pregnant woman as it is thought that the tests can still return a negative result in cases where the mother may actually be a carrier of the bacterium.

However, there are certain known risk factors that are thought to increase a baby’s chance of infection should the mother be a carrier. This includes if a baby is born prematurely (before 37 weeks), if the mothers waters break more than 18 hours before the baby is born, or if the mother has a raised temperature of more than 38 degrees during labour. In these instances antibiotics should be offered to the mother during labour to help minimise the chance of an infection occurring. If these are not offered and the baby subsequently contracts Group B strep infection as a result then it may be possible to pursue a birth injury to baby claim for compensation.

In addition, antibiotics should be offered during labour if a previous test has indicated that a mother is a carrier of the bacterium or if a previous baby has suffered from a Group B step infection. If in these situations if antibiotics are not offered it may be possible to pursue a midwife negligence claim as part of a wider medical negligence claim.

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