Findings presented at a national one-day conference in London show that screening pregnant women for group B Strep has resulted in an 80% reduction in these potentially devastating infections in newborn babies.
Dr Gopal Rao OBE, consultant microbiologist, who launched the pilot at Northwick Park Hospital, says:
"The results from the pilot are really encouraging. We have seen an 80 per cent reduction in the numbers of babies being born with GBS from one in every 1,000 births in unscreened mothers to one in every 5,000 births in screened mothers.
"National guidance currently advises that only mothers whose babies are deemed at risk of GBS should be given antibiotics at the time of delivery. Despite following national guidance, the maternity unit at Northwick Park, which serves a very diverse community, has historically seen higher than national average numbers of cases of GBS infection in newborns. We decided to offer screening to all mothers, using GBS-specific tests, and those women who are found to carry GBS are given antibiotics at the time of delivery.
"The results have shown that with screening we can improve the care we provide our mothers and their babies. GBS can kill and the results from this pilot will enable midwives to offer further reassurance to our mothers about the infection and safe treatment with antibiotics."
The results are being presented on Tuesday, 3 November 2015 by the Northwick Park Hospital team at the conference "Prevention of Group B Strep infection in neonates: the way forward in the UK," which is being held at The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Bereaved mother, Fiona Paddon, who started the www.change.org/GBS petition (which has over 210,000 signatures), following the death of her only son, Edward, aged 9 days in May 2014 from preventable group B Strep infection says:
"It's almost impossible to think that your baby will die and to be told that I could have been tested and then successfully treated for the very thing that killed Edward is almost too much to bear. If I had been tested, I would've been given antibiotics in labour which almost always prevent tragedies like ours."
Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and of meningitis in babies up to the age of three months. On average in the UK:
- One baby each day develops group B Strep infection
- One baby a week dies from group B Strep infection and
- One baby a fortnight recovers from group B Strep infection with long-term mental or physical problems from mild to severe learning disabilities, loss of sight, loss of hearing and lung damage.
Most developed countries with group B Strep prevention strategies routinely test pregnant women using group B Strep-specific tests. Such countries - including the USA, Spain, France, Italy and many others - have seen falls in their rates by 71-86%.
Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of charity Group B Strep Support says:
"The findings of the pilot show, for the first time in the UK, how effective screening pregnant women with GBS-specific tests is at reducing these devastating infections in newborn babies.
The current strategy has failed to reduce the rate of GBS infections since its introduction in 2003, and the numbers have been rising.
It is time for change.
More than 200 families a year could be spared the trauma of their newborn baby suffering preventable group B Strep infection is we rolled out screening across the UK with similar results."
Not only have the UK rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies not fallen, but also few NHS trusts follow Public Health England's British Standards for Microbiology Investigations B58 for the GBS-specific test methodology.
Prof Philip Steer, Emeritus Editor BJOG, and part of the Conference Organising Committee, says:
"The speakers and chairs at this meeting are leaders in their field. Their collective knowledge, expertise and experience will enable those present to review the facts about neonatal group B Strep infection and its prevention for the UK in an unbiased and balanced way."
Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive of baby charity Group B Strep Support says:
"We at Group B Strep Support are proud to support the one day conference with an unrestricted educational grant. We remain committed to promoting the offer of routine GBS-specific screening, which has proved effective in so many other countries - and at Northwick Park."