Strep infections during birth

Some women carry group B streptococcus bacteria in their vaginal area, and it does not cause problems. (This type of strep is different from the type that causes strep throat infection.) Without knowing it, a woman who has group B streptococcus bacteria in her vagina can pass the infection to her baby during vaginal birth. The baby can then develop an infection of the tissues covering the brain (meningitis) or an infection of the blood (sepsis).

Some babies who get severe infections caused by group B streptococcus develop brain damage, hearing loss, or blindness. Brain damage can result in cerebral palsy.

Prevention

Late in your third trimester, your health professional is likely to check you for group B streptococcus bacteria, particularly if you have any risk factors for the infection. If you test positive (or if for some reason you aren't tested), you will receive antibiotics during labor. Antibiotics reduce the likelihood that you will pass the infection to your baby.

Antibiotic treatment is not necessary during a planned cesarean delivery that takes place before labor or rupture of the membranes.1

Citations

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2002, reaffirmed 2007). Prevention of early-onset group B streptococcal disease in newborns. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 279. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 100(6): 1405–1412.

Last Updated: November 28, 2008

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