Early symptoms of group B strep
What better time to go over the early symptoms of group B strep (GBS) than in the midst of group B strep awareness month? The group B streptococcus bacterium commonly lives in the intestines or lower genital tract of healthy adults – including pregnant women, who can pass it on to their newborns, on whom GBS can have serious adverse effects. The earliest symptoms may appear within a week to a few months following birth.
Group B strep symptoms include:
- Difficulty feeding.
- Difficulty breathing (nostrils flaring, grunting, rapid breathing, short periods without breathing).
- Blue-ish skin color.
Group B strep is not transmitted sexually nor through food or water. Moreover, many babies born to women who carry the bacterium are healthy. However, the newborn may become infected if it is exposed to or swallows fluids containing GBS during vaginal childbirth. If that is the case, the infant may be at risk for severe and potentially deadly complications such as:
- Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs).
- Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord).
- Bacteremia (infection in the bloodstream).
The unborn baby is most at risk if the mother carries the GBS bacterium. Thus, the CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for group B strep between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. This involves taking a sample from the vagina with a swabstick.
Other risk factors include:
- The baby is born earlier than 37 weeks.
- Water breaks 18 hours or more before delivery.
- The mother has a placental tissues and amniotic fluid infection.
- GBS bacteria have been detected in the mother’s urine during the current or previous pregnancies.
- The mother’s temperature is higher than 100 F during labor.
- The mother has delivered a baby with group B strep before.
If the GBS screening test comes back positive, the doctor can intravenously administer penicillin or a related antibiotic to the mother – unless she is allergic to penicillin, in which case the doctor may administer clindamycin or another alternative. Antibiotics are also recommended if the mother has a urinary tract infection or if one or more of the aforementioned risk factors are present, but is not generally required during C-section delivery unless water breaks or labor has begun before surgery. If the baby has already been born and the doctors suspects GBS, bacteria grown from samples of the newborn’s blood or spinal fluid can be sent to a laboratory to grow cultures – which may take 2-3 days – in order to establish a diagnosis. The early symptoms of group B strep in infants are also treated with penicillin or ampicillin, unless the illness is severe, in which case additional treatment such as IV fluids, oxygen, and other drugs may be needed. However, GBS does not usually prolong the period of time mother and baby spend in the hospital, nor does it affect the mother’s ability to breastfeed.