Oct 01, 1996
The U. S. Public Health Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) has issued guidelines recommending that all pregnant women be screened for Streptococcus B Infection (Strep B).
Strep B is a very serious bacterial infection threatening the health of 7,500 newborn babies each year in the USA. 6% of the infected babies die, often in the first week of life; of those infants who survive, 20% have brain damage, hearing loss or blindness. The infection is the most common cause in the newborn of sepsis (infection in the blood) and meningitis (infection of membranes covering the brain). The infant becomes infected during delivery, getting the infection from an unsuspecting mother who is often symptom free.
10 to 30% of pregnant women have a Strep B infection but have no symptoms. The infection spreads to the baby via amniotic fluid during labor and delivery. Risk of infection is highest among: babies whose mothers have a history of having had a Strep B infection in a previous baby; infants whose mothers are less than 20 years of age; and babies who are born 18 hours after the amniotic fluid breaks (the “water breaks”). African-American infants appear to be at much higher risk of infection then others.
The CDC recommends that all pregnant women be screened for Strep B infection between 35-37 weeks of pregnancy (7-8 months) and if found to be positive, be offered treatment with antibiotics.
Recommendations are also made for the treatment of women who are in labor and are: less than 37 weeks pregnant and have not been tested; or if their water breaks and they do not deliver within 18 hours; or have a fever of 100.4 F0 degree or more.
The consequences of Strep B infection of the newborn can be disastrous. Pregnant women need to be aware of this and discuss with their doctors the need for screening for infection, the treatment of infection, and treatment during delivery if they have not been screened. An ounce of prevention is surely better than a pound of cure — particularly if there is no “cure” for the brain injured infant.
Since vaginal infection is a cause of premature labor, another issue is under study: the routine testing of all pregnant women for vaginal infections of any type (e.g.: bacterial; trichomonas, etc.). There is important debate among experts about the usefulness of testing all pregnant women for vaginal infections in order to help prevent premature delivery. A research study is being conducted to learn if routine testing is effective for all pregnant women or should be considered only for pregnant women with other risk factors of delivering prematurely. We will keep you informed.
© UCP Research & Educational Foundation, October 1996