Understanding Group B Streptococcal Disease

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
A certain type of bacteria called group B streptococcus, or GBS, causes group B streptococcal disease. For a majority of healthy adults, this type of infection won’t hurt you. However, it can be extremely serious for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Symptoms of GBS infection

Often times, GBS infection doesn’t cause any symptoms. When it does, though, the symptoms you have depend on which of your organs are involved. Commonly, types of GBS infection include:
  • Bladder infection - Symptoms may include the need to urinate a lot, a burning or painful feeling when you do urinate, blood in your urine, needing to urinate either in a hurry or suddenly.
  • Kidney infection - Symptoms may include those of a bladder infection, as well as back pain, fever, vomiting and nausea.
  • Intraamniotic infection (amniotic infection) - Symptoms may include tenderness where the uterus is found in the lower part of your belly, fever and a fast heart rate with the mother or baby.

Testing for GBS

Doctors can test for GBS by taking samples of your body fluids, and then checking to see whether GBS bacteria grows in the samples. This is referred to as a culture.
A majority of doctors will recommend that all pregnant women have a GBS culture in the early part of their pregnancy. Some expert groups also say all pregnant women need GBS cultures for vaginal and rectum samples between pregnancy weeks 35-37. If you test positive for GBS, you’ll then take antibiotics to treat your infection.

You do want to see your doctor immediately if you’re pregnant and have any of the symptoms.

Problems with GBS

For a mom, GBS may cause infections in the uterus or amniotic fluid. It may also lead to preterm birth, or rather, early delivery. As for newborns, GBS may lead to serious infections in the spinal cord, brain, blood, lungs, skin, bones and joints, and muscle or fat.

Treatment for GBS

If you have GBS, you’ll have an antibiotic pumped into you with an IV during labor. This will help protect you and your child from any problems.

Your doctors and nurses will want to watch your baby closely for any symptoms of infection after delivery. These include poor feeding, irritability, trouble breathing, extreme tiredness, and a low temperature or fever.

If your child’s doctor thinks there’s an infection, they may want X-rays, blood tests or other types of testing done. Babies with GBS infection are treated with an IV of antibiotics for no less than 10 days.

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