As this month marks Group B Strep Awareness month, Kirsty Parkes, Medical Negligence Serious Injuries Assistant Litigation Executive, considers the impact of this little-known condition further.
Around a quarter of women in the UK are carriers of Group B Streptococcus, otherwise known as Group B Strep or GBS.
GBS is a common bacterium that can be found within the vagina and bowel that is not usually harmful or associated with any health risks to the women that carry it.
However, GBS can pose a risk during pregnancy, as an unborn baby can come into contact with GBS between the time that the mother’s waters break and the time that a baby is born. In the majority of cases, babies are born healthy and are not affected by GBS; however approximately 43 babies in the UK every month develop early-onset GBS infection.
GBS infection is more likely to occur when a mother has had a positive swab for GBS during the pregnancy; when the mother has had a previous baby infected with GBS; in premature babies (i.e. in babies born before 37 weeks gestation); when the mother suffers a higher than normal temperature during labour; and in cases when labour extends beyond 24 hours.
In around two thirds of cases of babies affected by GBS, early indications of GBS are apparent within the first 6 days of being born and usually within the first 12 hours. In some cases however, late onset GBS can occur between 1 week of age and 3 months old, and in rare cases GBS can become apparent after 3 months of age.
Symptoms of GBS in babies include:
- An unusually high or low temperature;
- An increased or decreased heart rate;
- Not feeding well;
- Limpness or difficulty to wake;
- Difficulty breathing;
In very rare cases, GBS can cause an infection during pregnancy and can very sadly result in stillbirth, and there is some evidence that GBS can be a rare cause of late onset miscarriage.
Once a baby is diagnosed with GBS, it is easily treatable and treatment is often highly successful.
However, complications can arise in babies infected by GBS when treatment is not administered in time and can result in septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis. The long-term effects of GBS can also include deafness, blindness, learning difficulties and cerebral palsy.
Tragically, approximately 1 baby per week in the UK will die as a result of GBS.
There have been a number of medical negligence cases recently reported in the legal press where appropriate treatment has not been provided in time to babies infected with GBS.
In the case of BZE v Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (2018) the Claimant, a 20 year old man, received a lump sum of £5.2 million and annual periodical payments of £150,000 for the duration of his life after he suffered GBS meningitis following his birth which was not diagnosed and treated.
Before the Claimant was born his mother had been cold, clammy, was shaking and shivering uncontrollably, and was feverish with a very high temperature. When the Claimant was born he was pale and grunting. He was not immediately tested and treated for GBS and sadly he later developed GBS meningitis. He developed cerebral palsy and suffered symptoms including mild motor disorder, impaired speech and intermittent incontinence and he required constant care.
Unlike in many other developed countries, testing for GBS is not routinely offered on the NHS in the UK, and is often only available to those women who meet certain ‘risk factors’.
Testing is however widely available on a private basis and can cost as little as £35. GBS is tested by taking a vaginal swab which is sent off to a lab and the results are returned within a few days. If GBS is detected at any time during pregnancy, intravenous antibiotics will be offered from the start of labour and at regular intervals (usually 4-hourly) until the baby is born.
This month, Fletchers are taking part in ‘Steps Against Strep’ to help raise awareness of GBS and to raise money for Group B Strep Support to help save babies lives. The challenge is to walk 62,000 steps in two weeks: That‘s 1,000 steps for every baby who will develop a GBS infection this July.
On Friday 5th July 2019, Fletchers held its first ever conference, “Fletchcon2019” at the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre. 350+ employees from the Southport Office walked from our offices on Houghton Street in Southport which we believe amounted to well over the 62,000 step target!
For more information and support in relation to Group B Strep testing and treatment visit www.gbss.org.uk
If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of the failure to detect and treat Group B Strep, contact us to discuss this with one of our expert advisors today.