Pregnancy infection testing under review

Published Friday, 21 September 2012
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The UK government is considering the routine testing of pregnant mothers for Group B Streptococcus, a common bacterial infection.

Pregnancy infection testing under review
Sarah Cowan with her baby Harry, before he died after contracting Strep B. (© UTV)

Although it is harmless in most cases, Group B Strep has claimed the lives of newborn babies.

Other countries screen for the infection which can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics.

The consultation period is due to finish in a few weeks' time, but campaigners say action needs to be taken now to prevent further deaths.

Sarah Cowan's first baby Harry lived for only 13 hours after contracting Group B Strep during labour, at the end of what had been a healthy pregnancy.

"We had our wee nursery done up and I had the pram and everything," recalled the Co Down woman.

"My labour was straight forward. Basically, everything went wrong when he was born."
Harry had to be resuscitated and was immediately taken to the neo-natal unit, but hours later he passed away.

"I was in such shock," she explained. "I expected my baby to be ok. Coming home from the hospital with no baby, it was just horrendous."

Sarah said when she and her husband received the autopsy results a few weeks later, Harry had died due to pneumonia and sepsis caused by Group B Strep.

The infection is very common - one in four women carry the bacteria - and Sarah believes her baby could be alive today had she been tested and given antibiotics.

"It was the best day because I got to meet him, but it was the worst day of my life because we were burying our baby instead of bringing him home from the hospital," explained Sarah.

The Royal College of Midwives estimates that of the 26,000 births in Northern Ireland each year, 13 will contract Group B Strep and two or three will die from the infection.

A test carried out at 35 to 37 weeks can determine if expectant mothers have Group B Strep, but it is not available on the NHS.

"The difficulty with GBS is you could be screened today and be negative and be screened tomorrow and be positive," explained Breedagh Hughes from the Royal College of Midwives.

"It's a very imprecise way of dealing with the problem.

"I think the Americans are probably a lot further ahead than us on this one and they recognise the difficulties of both universal screening and treating every women with antibiotics and they're now researching actively a way of find a vaccine that will treat this problem for all women."

© UTV News
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3 Comments
Tracey Henry in Durham formerly coleraine wrote (789 days ago):
I contracted GBS with my first born daughter without any prior warning from midwives. She was born early and should have been routinely screened but instead fought for her life in great ormond st. She survived but is severely disabled. My second daughter was born at 32 weeks and also told nothing by midwife, and when I mentioned it she dismissed it, until I told her about Ellie. I had to demand antibiotics and a test. She too had gbs. But because I was allowed the antibiotics she survived and is now a healthy 6 year old. I think health professionals and nhs owe it to every pregnant woman to offer them the test, free or not everyone has a right to be told. It saved one of my daughters from the hardship the other one struggles with everyday.
Jane Plumb in UK wrote (791 days ago):
How brave of Sarah to tell her story & raise so much awareness. Thank you UTV for featuring this important issue. I was disappointed by the midwife's comments - she clearly hasn't been fully informed. GBS carriage CAN come and go but not on a day by day basis! The sensitive antenatal GBS tests proposed are hugely predictive of carriage status for 5 weeks so, when done at 35-37 weeks, will predict carriage status when the baby is born, which is the key to,e. Countries which routinely offer antenatal group B Strep screening using these tests have seen the number of babies with these horrible infections fall by over 80%, whereas the number of newborn babies with GBS infection has risen by 32% since the risk-based prevention guidelines were introduced in 2003. Clearly they're not working and screening does. It's time for change.
Louise in Bangor wrote (791 days ago):
I think this is a long time coming. Having experienced the trauma of group b strep myself 5yrs ago it really isn't a nice place to be. Although Oliver survived he does have long term effects of this. The government need to move into the 21st century ,how can they play with babies lives like this, how can they debate wether a babies lives or doesn't its just isn't fair. So something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
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