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Neonatal Group B Strep Declines Following Consensus Guidelines

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This strategy prevents early-onset disease but not the late-onset form, defined as that occurring in babies seven to 89 days old, Schrag explains. Early-onset disease may cause meningitis or pneumonia and is often fatal. Infants who survive may be mentally retarded or have hearing or vision problems. Babies get the early-onset infection from their mothers, while they probably contract the late-onset version from someone else. The symptoms of late-onset infection include pneumonia, meningitis, and the presence of bacteria in the blood. Schrag and her colleagues are studying how the late-onset disease is transmitted and the best ways to prevent it.

Approximately one in every four women carries group B streptococci as part of the normal vaginal and gastrointestinal environment and have no symptoms from it, Schrag tells WebMD. Patients who test positive for the bacterium late in pregnancy are at high risk of passing the infection to their infants and should be offered the antibiotics during labor. Other risk factors include running a fever during labor, membrane rupture that persists longer than 18 hours, and premature delivery. According to Schrag, all of these patients should receive intrapartum penicillin or, if they are allergic to penicillin, a second-line antibiotic.

"The good news is, there's a strategy to prevent this infection in newborns," she says. She urges pregnant women to discuss their risks with their doctors and to ask about prevention policies at the hospital in which they will deliver.

Vital Information:

  • Approximately one in four women carry group B streptococci as part of their normal vaginal and gastrointestinal environment, but experience no symptoms.
  • These women are at high risk of passing the infection to their children during childbirth and should be given a preventive dose of penicillin during labor.
  • Programs to administer penicillin to women at high risk of passing group B strep to their infant has reduced the incidence of infection in newborns by 65%.
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