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Why are we guessing when we could be testing?

A guest blog by the founder of the charity Group B Strep Support, Jane Plumb MBE,  for Group B Strep awareness month in July

Group B Strep awareness month
Jane Plumb MBE is the founder of the charity Group B Strep Support which campaigns to preventable cases of group B Strep infection in babies. You can follow Jane on twitter at @janeplumb and the charity's twitter feed on @GBSSupport

Did you know that, on average, one baby dies a week from a usually preventable condition?

Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies. On average, one newborn baby a day in the UK will get the infection, and, of these, one baby in ten will die and one in twenty will have long-term physical or mental disabilities (including cerebral palsy, brain damage, blindness, deafness and amputated limbs).

This month, as part of group B Strep awareness month, we are calling on the government to offer all pregnant women GBS-specific testing, and help to stop this needless waste of lives.

Routine testing already takes place in many countries worldwide, including the US, Germany, France, Spain and Japan, and this has resulted in a decline in Group B Strep infections of 71% to 86% (1).

In contrast, since 2003, the UK has used ‘risk factors’ to guess which pregnant women might be at risk.

Since then, the rate of group B Strep infection in newborn babies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has not fallen and the actual numbers have risen (2). Risk factors are poor at predicting which Mums are carrying group B Strep (3), and whose babies will be exposed to the bacteria. Furthermore, the ‘gold standard’ test specifically to detect group B Strep carriage (4) is rarely available in the NHS.

Carrying group B Strep has no symptoms so without testing it's impossible to know your GBS carriage status. If a pregnant woman tests positive for group B Strep during her pregnancy, antibiotics are offered during labour that reduce the risk of her newborn baby developing the infection by over 80%. These antibiotics (usually penicillin) cost the NHS pennies, while the ECM (enriched culture medium) 'gold standard' test to detect GBS carriage costs the NHS £11.

At present, despite its devastating consequences, there is low awareness amongst the British public about group B Strep. A recent survey found that less than half (47%) of new and expectant mothers had heard of it, and only 34% of these had learned about group B Strep from their midwives, GPs or antenatal classes (5).

Families are being let down by the health system and this needs to change. We know that more and more women are speaking up to be tested (or are having the test done privately); while many doctors and midwives are recognising that the current prevention approach is failing and are offering some women testing, albeit rarely with the GBS-specific test (6).

To make lasting change, a petition has been set up on Change.org, entitled 'Provide tests for group B Strep to prevent any more avoidable deaths of newborn babies ', which calls for information and the ECM 'gold standard' test to be offered to all pregnant women.

Why are we guessing when we could be testing?

Help stop the needless deaths of 50 newborn babies each year, as well as the 30 babies a year who are being left with long term disabilities, and the hundreds of families for whom their newborn babies’ first days and sometimes weeks are spent in Special Care from avoidable group B Strep infection.

Please sign and share the GBS petition and, if you are interested in more information about group B Strep, and to get involved, please visit Group B Strep Support.

Group B Strep Support
01444 416176


  1. Albouy-Llaty M, Nadeau C, Descombes E, Pierre F, Migeot V. Improving perinatal Group B streptococcus screening with process indicators. J Eval Clin Pract 2011
  2. PHE data series online summarised
  3. Daniels JP, Gray J, Gray R, Hills RK, Khan KS, Pattison HM; Intrapartum tests for group B streptococcus: accuracy and acceptability of screening: GBS Collaborative Group. BJOG. Jan 2011;118 (2):257-65. Epub 2010 Oct 13.
  4. Public Health England. UK Standards for Microbiology Investigations. Detection of Carriage of Group B Streptococci 58 Issue 3. London: PHE; June 2015.
  5. Bounty Media Survey Results 2015 – comparing results from their 2010, 2013 and 2015 Surveys – Awareness and Perception of group B Strep – conducted between 16-31 March 2015. Base survey 4,673 interviews, women in early stages of pregnancy and youngest child 12 months.
  6. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Audit of current practice in preventing early-onset neonatal group B streptococcal disease in the UK. Commissioned by the National Screening Committee. London: RCOG; 2015.

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